This 1961 entry into the Edgar Wallace Mysteries series of B Movies is the first offering on the second DVD set. It starts in a very different way to any of the previous ones, with a burglary being committed. The opening sequence is very exciting, with a safe being methodically cracked in a jeweller’s shop at night, while a policeman does his rounds outside. Those were the days, when policeman used to walk around looking through shop windows and checking to make sure the doors were locked, and if a burglar alarm went off there was never a policeman far away, ready to come running. Nowadays they’re too busy… well, I don’t know what they do, to be honest. We mustn’t have rose-tinted spectacles, though, because this was apparently a dangerous time to be a policeman. The crook is intercepted while he’s making his escape, and shoots the policeman. So we have here a murder case, but not a premeditated one, and not the usual kind of mystery to solve. Instead, this film is about tracking down the criminal and finding the loot.
Almost immediately, the police have a good idea who did the crime, thanks to a lucky break. An ex-copper is in town, he happened to spot a member of a gang whose previous crime matches the profile for this one, and is willing to come out of retirement to investigate. In fact, he’s keen to do that, because he couldn’t get his man the first time round, and it’s the one big failure of his career. But things aren’t as simple as they seem. The chief suspect is behaving irrationally, as if he’s trying to implicate himself, and yet he can’t be found. Eventually the retired detective realises that he needs to completely reverse all his assumptions.
“I’m sure of just one thing in this case, that every obvious explanation is completely wrong.”
It’s a very interesting idea, and when we eventually get the explanation it makes sense of all the evidence we have seen and is very clever indeed while actually being relatively simple. Having said that, I found it hard to care much about what was happening here. Let’s face it, which member of a gang of crooks is the culprit who is killing the others isn’t really going to tug on the heartstrings, so it becomes little more than an intellectual exercise, and that’s spoilt at the end by the very boring location of the loot, which seems to be a big moment the film was trying to build up to.
Despite these issues, I found this one a very solidly watchable 55 minutes, mainly thanks to the characterisations and the quality of the acting. Best of the bunch is Maxine Audley as Lydia Daney, who keeps us guessing about which side she is on right to the end. She’s a great character, matter-of-fact and apparently in a different class altogether from her lowlife husband. She comes across as a very dangerous ally for retired policeman Tim Jordan, a solid performance from Lee Montague. I didn’t like the element of romance between them, which felt forced and rushed. When he kisses her it almost comes out of nowhere, but there is a suggestion that both of them are trying to play with each other’s emotions to further their cause, and both are achieving nothing, so there is some kind of a point to it, if a little confusing. But Lydia is never anything less that fascinating to watch, seemingly unflappable whatever happens, which makes perfect sense when you consider the life she has led.
“Sorry I shouted at you. Nothing personal.”
“I quite enjoyed it.”
The film has a great ensemble cast, with Allan Cuthbertson very watchable as the other detective, with an amusingly named subordinate Detective Sergeant Pepper. I couldn’t help smiling each time his name was mentioned, although it wouldn’t have meant anything to the viewers in 1961. As for the crooks, you know you’re in for a treat when Terence Alexander shows up, and he’s not even one of the main characters (Alfred Burke and Nigel Green play the two main criminals). Alexander is great as “everybody’s odd job man”, the very gentlemanly Johnny Time, whose time is short.
Man at the Carlton Tower is an unusual entry in this movie series, but I found it a very welcome change of pace, a refreshing start to the second collection from Network DVD. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Clue of the Silver Key