The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: The Fourth Square

The Fourth SquareThis instalment in the Edgar Wallace Mysteries film series opens with a burglar sneaking into a darkened room, opening a safe, taking one specific item, and then sticking some little squares on the wall. It’s an odd and creepy start, and immediately creates a mystery. How does the burglar know exactly where the safe is? How does the burglar know the combination? Why does the burglar take just one thing? And what’s with the squares stuck on the wall?

As the detective quickly surmises, the burglar has to be somebody known to the victims, in order to have so much insider knowledge, but when the residents return home it just adds another layer of mystery, with the wife claiming that nothing is missing. So why is she lying to the police? Her reaction to the death of her maid is a bit strange, too:

“I’m afraid she’s dead.”
“Dead? You mean…?”

Er… yes. Dead. As in dead. When Nina goes to visit her lawyer, a lot of aspects of this become clearer. This missing ring was a present from another man, which is why she didn’t want her husband to know about it. The lawyer, Bill Lawrence, sums it all up pretty well:

“So you deceived your husband, lied to the police, ditched Henry Adams, and lost a good maid, and all you care about is getting your ring back.”

Lawrence becomes the unlikely hero of this film. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a murder mystery where the main character doing the investigation was a lawyer. It soon emerges that Nina is not the only woman who has been given jewellery and had it stolen. Another victim is the bizarre Fiona Foster, whose 60s boyish haircut and strong cheekbones have the unfortunate effect of making her look a bit like a man in drag. But that’s not what makes her bizarre; it’s the way she speaks with such a childish affectation:

“What was taken?”
“A bwoach.”

She is one of many colourful characters who populate this film. Another of my favourites was Sandra Martin’s housekeeper, Mrs Potter, who steadfastly refuses to be amused by Bill’s attempts at humour, and then rewards him by nearly killing him with flowers.

“She’s shooting.”
“Anyone I know?”
“At the film studios.”

The cast list for this 50 minute film is huge, and it’s a job to keep track of everything that’s going on. That should mean that there are lots of possible candidates for the burglar/murderer, but really what’s going on here is fairly obvious quite early in the game. The benefit of the big cast is instead the amount of people who have some part in the intrigue. The mystery that really works is those squares stuck on the wall, and what they represent. I thought the solution to that was very clever.

Unlike most of the previous instalments in this film series, there is no big dramatic moment of action at the end. I have got used to these films ending with a big bang (sometimes literally), and generally the death of the culprit. However, it is actually more satisfying to see the criminals quietly and tidily brought to justice instead, avoiding that slightly empty feeling of some of the previous films, with the detective unable to make his arrest, instead being presented with a fait accompli and a dead body. This one wraps everything up much more neatly than that, so you don’t really feel the lack of a big chase sequence or something of that nature. Also, I mentioned that a lawyer makes for an unusual hero, but it’s actually a refreshing change from the usual police procedural approach, and it tells the story of what can be achieved through intelligence and a strong resolve, without the need for any specific skills or experience.

“The case was solved in the fourth square.”

Very neat.   RP

Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Man at the Carlton Tower

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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