This is the first film from the Edgar Wallace Mysteries series that is actually based on an Edgar Wallace book, and it’s certainly very different to Urge to Kill, which we looked at a couple of weeks ago. This is a locked room mystery, a subgenre I absolutely love, but it takes a long time to get to the point.
The detective for this one is Superintendent Meredith, played with gravitas and enthusiasm by Bernard Lee, who will always be remembered as M in the James Bond films. He is a man on a mission, trying to prove the innocence of a man named Lexman (David Knight), who he believes has been framed for a crime he did not commit. We know that he’s right about that because we saw beardy big shot Ramon Karadis setting it all up.
This reminded me a bit of a Columbo episode, with Karadis giving the impression of welcoming the input of the police into his life, co-operating fully with the detective until it is clear that the metaphorical Rottweiler is out to get him. The moment of that shift in dynamics is great, with Meredith asking to look in Karadis’s safe, Karadis telling him he can look if he can get into it, and then pulling a gun on Meredith when it looks like he’s actually going to crack the safe.
I also liked the small amount of humour that was injected from Meredith’s teasing relationship with his Sergeant, which contributes to the best speech of the film:
“Anson, I’m not going to rest until I’ve proved that Viney’s death was accidental and that Lexman was unjustly convicted, and when I say I’m not going to rest, I mean that you are not going to rest.”
Just when Meredith has achieved his aims and Lexman is about to be pardoned, he escapes from prison in an exciting sequence with Lexman and a fellow convict climbing over the prison roofs at night. This is one of a couple of two great twists in the tale. We’ll come to the other, but first of all let’s look at the locked room aspect of the film, which doesn’t actually happen until late in the game.
It’s all set up very nicely. To have a locked room mystery, you can’t have a window as a means of escape. I watched an inferior example of the genre recently in the form of an Avengers episode where the killer had simply escaped by means of a rope, but I won’t say any more about that because it won’t hit the blog for a while. This is much better, because early in the film it is established that Karadis has no windows in his office:
“I do not care to look out and I do not care to have people looking in.”
He is paranoid about possible attackers, if you can call it paranoia when there’s a good reason for it. Karadis has made a lot of enemies over the years, and you can see why. Another weak point that needs to be dealt with in a locked room mystery is the door, and once again that is basically taken out of the equation because it is made of steel and can only be opened from the inside.
As soon as Meredith notices the candles, fans of the genre will probably have little trouble figuring out what happened, but I still felt that this was a strong example of a locked room mystery. The solution was elegant and made sense, without being overly complicated.
“Why are there two candles missing from here? Why is this one lying on the desk, and the other one over by the door?”
That brings us to the second twist in the film, the identity of the killer. It is spoilt a bit by that age-old problem: an unconvincing disguise. There’s something about making up one person to look like somebody different that almost always shouts out at the viewer as wrong, however well it is done. I think there is something about the human brain that is excellent at detecting anything slightly unnatural about a human face, and it’s almost impossible to make a fake face fool us. But the twist still feels like an effective bombshell, and also it said something important about Meredith’s detecting skills. Throughout the film he has been like a dog with a bone, focussed on proving a man’s innocence. Solving the case required him to make a 180 in his beliefs, and I think that has a broader lesson for us. To succeed in life it’s probably essential to be open to the possibility that we can be wrong about things, and be prepared to completely reverse our opinions of a person or a subject. Closed minds are dangerous, and counterproductive. And if you don’t agree with that, you’re wrong and I’m always right. RP