Streaming services are overflowing with forgotten B-movie mysteries that tend to blend into each other. Anybody scouring Prime or YouTube for an hourish-long feature they can easily walk away from will find a cornucopia of at best mild pleasure and at worst inconsequential piffle. The 1955 comedy-mystery Miss Tulip Stays the Night seems to promise a more salacious entree, but that barely bawdy title is misleading—and so is its immediately forgettable plot. And this slice of streaming hell was part of a seemingly endless supply of sub-par material that kept its leading actress in a cinematic purgatory for much of her career. Diana Dors, best known as the “British Marilyn Monroe,” got steady jobs early on thanks to a smoldering sex appeal, but studios seldom knew what to do with her. Dors was more than a platinum beauty: she had a strong, charismatic presence and a sharp vocal instrument that was more often than not wasted on storylines and dialogue beneath her capabilities.

Dors stars here as Kate Dax, whose husband Andrew (Patrick Holt) is a crime writer struggling to finish his latest novel. For vacation and inspiration, the couple depart to a country house. During their visit, an elderly neighbor named Millicent Tulip (Cicely Courtneidge) stops by the cottage, agitated about some poison-pen letters she’s received and which she at first suspects were written by Mr. Dax. So, although Dors is the marquee name, she is not the Miss Tulip who stays the night, and any expectation of fireworks is further quashed when the elderly neighbor, who indeed stays the night, turns up Dead by Morning (the film’s US release title).

Miss Tulip was the last feature from director Leslie Arliss, whose biggest hit was the 1943 melodrama The Man in Grey, starring James Mason. Co-star Phyllis Calvert was no fan of Arliss, calling him “a lazy director,” a reputation that followed him around at Gainsborough Pictures and continued through to this fluffy mid-‘50s quickie. The movie is benign enough. What’s frustrating is that Dors, cast in the role of a bimbo wife, can’t play dumb to save her life.

Arliss strands the actress in sitcom setups that she’s too smart to pull off: when the couple is forced to stop by the roadside to change a flat tire, Dors falls backwards as she tries to work a jack. While in many respects Dors was a highly physical actress, slapstick was not the best use of her physique. When she offers a cup of tea to a doddering officer Feathers (Jack Hulbert) investigating the murder, she seems momentarily distracted, as if she can’t be bothered, before turning quickly to faux-hospitality mode. That shift is to some degree warranted by the police inquiry—Inspector Thorne (Joss Ambler), in charge of the case, immediately suspects Andrew Dax, despite even P.C. Feathers’ protestations to the contrary—but Dors’ lack of engagement, and the cast’s general somnambulance, point to a director thoroughly uninspired by the lackluster script. The Dax’s have a cute dog, and the plot machinations aren’t utterly devoid of wit, but a typical episode of “Murder, She Wrote” or “Columbo” was more sharply plotted and directed than this by-the-numbers whodunit.

What lowers Miss Tulip from mediocrity to hellscape is its air of missed opportunity. There are plenty of Diana Dors movies available online, but for every strong showing like the 1957 noir The Long Haul, there are plenty more that are failures on one or more levels, like the tepid 1955 musical An Alligator Named Daisy or one of a sad string of ‘70s sex comedies like the 1977 atrocity Adventures of a Private Eye. Dors did come into a late-career renaissance of a sort, when the aging actress, no longer trapped in sexpot roles, found her calling as vivid supporting color in horror. One of the best of these was the 1973 Amicus feature Nothing but the Night, in which Dors stars as the mother of a troubled young girl overcome by mysterious seizures. Dors leans into the haughtiness that was always lurking in her more youthful roles, and her larger-than-life personality comes through even when she’s eating an apple. The best ‘70s showcase for her Shakespeare-in-the-gutter voice may have been the dialogue-heavy “Queenie’s Castle.” The British program was ostensibly a sitcom, with Dors as a single mother living with her brother-in-law and three sons in West Yorkshire council housing. But the men’s thuggishness, led by Queenie’s commanding temper, left a tone that was far more A Clockwork Orange than “One Day at a Time.”

Dors wrote a number of books with titles like Behind Closed Dors and Diana Dors’ A-Z of Men, which no doubt added to her reputation for style over substance. That may be the worst thing about Miss Tulip Stays the Night: the movie was a poor vehicle for its frustrated bombshell star. After a too-short lifetime of tabloid headlines and largely salacious screentime, Dors succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1984. She deserved better than this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The Sparks Brothers

Die-hard fans who’ve stuck with the Mael brothers through every incarnation and subsequent…