We start once again with a burglary at a business premises and a safe being cracked. This time the thief in question, Frank Murray, really hits the jackpot, finding £10,000 in cash. How much is that in today’s money? Answer: a lot. It’s all in new notes, so something dodgy was going on, and the owner of the photography shop doesn’t want the police to know that he had that money in the safe. He says he was keeping it for a client. Yeah, right.
The element of mystery here, which gets answered pretty quickly, is where the money came from. Other than that, we can’t really call this a murder mystery because the identity of the murderer is never in doubt. The “client” who wanted the money kept in Thomas Maple’s safe is worried that his secret is not entirely safe. I struggled to get my head around any of this. I’m not sure why Helder would want to use somebody else’s safe when he has a perfectly serviceable one of his own (which seems to also contain some ill-gotten gains). I’m not even sure what that photography place actually was. It appeared to consist of an office space with some big pictures on the wall, and no sign of any customers. What do they even do there? It probably all made sense. Maybe I was distracted by the obligatory jazz music playing in the background of any scene that was supposed to be exciting, constantly undermining the tension. When Kay finds the break-in, we get jaunty jazz music. When the safe is being dusted for fingerprints we get jaunty jazz music. We even get a car chase to the sound of jaunty jazz music. These seem to me to be moments that are not very jaunty.
After the burglary and the murder (Kay is really not having a good week), the film sags in the middle, with interminable scenes of Helder brooding about things while his henchman complains. At least, I think he’s his henchman. They way they talk to each other they might be a married couple. Things spring to life again at the end with the car chase, a very noisy fight inside a corrugated iron building, culminating in Helder amusingly shooting his own buddy, and a final showdown on a railway line. All very jaunty.
That’s the trouble with some of those films. The writers/directors often seemed happy to have a crime at the beginning, a thrilling chase at the end, and it didn’t matter too much what linked those two things. But the calibre of the acting stops these films from ever being anything other than solidly watchable. This week we have the magnificent Bernard Archard bringing Sutekh’s gift of dependable policing to all men, Elvi Hale as the nosy secretary (“something or other made me open it”), Paul Stassino as the obligatorily slightly-foreign crime boss, Victor Platt as an angry drunkard playing with fire, and best of all Michael Coles as the gentleman thief.
At its heart this is a story that examines the difference between two varieties of criminal. Helder is cool, calm, collected, and completely ruthless. He makes use of Stella and has no interest in her feelings whatsoever, which is his downfall. He has no compunction about killing anyone who gets in his way. In comparison, Murray is a small-time crook who only does “jobs” that are about enriching himself. He has his own moral code, and hates criminals who murder. Amusingly, he has a pride in his work, expressing disappointment when the biggest job he’s ever done doesn’t make headline news.
“I’d like to see something about it in print, you know.”
The writer invites us to like him, turns him into a hero, and then reminds us that he is still a criminal after all.
“We’ve still got that little matter of breaking and entering to talk about.”
It feels like a mean way to end the story, and that’s an indication of how effectively the writer and actor work to make us like a character who operates outside the law. Maybe the composer contributes to that too. It’s hard to dislike a character too much, when the music is making us feel so… jaunty. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Never Back Losers