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Probably the Best "Book Store" Film Noir (1952)


Man Bait, originally released in England by Hammer Film Productions under the title of The Last Page in 1952 was a film noir directed by Terence Fisher starring George Brent and Marguerite Chapman. It also represented the screen debut of sexy Diana Dors, a Marilyn Monroe lookalike who was actually classically trained in acting, as the femme fatale.  

In the film the married manager (Brent) of a bookstore, which sells both new and rare books, is attracted to his sexy blonde clerk (Dors). He attempts to resist temptation but finally kisses her in his office, though the romance does not proceed beyond one kiss. Dors, who had become infatuated with a man played by Peter Reynolds, who she witnessed stealing a rare book in the store, blackmails the bookstore manager for kissing her (remarkably), sending a letter to the manager's wife. The manager's wife, a bed-ridden invalid, unbelievably dies as she gets out of bed to burn the letter. Dors is murdered by the ex-con, with her body stuffed into a shipping crate that was intended for a book shipment. The manager is framed for the murder. 

As unlikely as the plot is, in my opinion and the opinion of many of my colleagues, Man Bait is the best bookstore mystery film, and perhaps the most interesting film set in an antiquarian bookstore. The main area in which the film deviates from authenticity in book trade practice is the seemingly enormous bookstore staff (perhaps 10 people) working in a store which appears to do relatively insignificant business.

The original title of the film, The Last Page, is much more in character with the subdued, sultry sexuality of the film, compared to the graphic elements suggested in the revised title Man Bait, and the graphic elements of the posters advertising the film under that title which strongly emphasize the busty aspect of Ms. Dors.