This entry in the Edgar Wallace Mysteries series of B movies isn’t really a mystery at all, and barely even features the police, but there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. Donald Edwards is a sad, twisted man whose wife wants a trial separation. She is spending a lot of time with another man, and Donald hires a paid killer. For most of the film we are kept in the dark as to who is his chosen target, and that adds a lot of suspense to the proceedings. Hitman Kersten shows up at a party, and Donald’s wife Helene cleverly figures out that the mystery guest must have been sent by her husband because he’s wearing a dinner jacket, which was not the dress code, but Helene told her husband that it was, in an attempt to make him look silly. It’s pretty obvious why this marriage might not have been working.
Helene and her “boyfriend” Robert naturally think Kersten is there to bump off Robert, but when he leaves the party Kersten does not follow, instead staying until the end and then leaving. This is a suspenseful part of the film because we are left waiting for the murderer to strike, and we don’t know who the victim is going to be or what will happen. It takes over half the film before the crime is committed, and then it’s not even what we think it is, with plenty more twists in the tale before the final showdown between hero(s) and villain(s)… well, sort of.
This is a cleverly woven story that keeps us guessing and functions more as a thriller than a mystery. There is no detective, and that adds to the feeling of danger because the entire film takes places outside the safe realm of law and order. The one time that the police do show up they are a right bunch of idiots, failing to even notice that Donald has his missing wife’s suitcases in the open boot of his car, which would have indicated beyond any doubt that he is lying about her going abroad. This series of films often places somebody else in the position of detective (for example, we have seen that done with an insurance assessor more than once), and to a small extent that happens here with Robert, although he doesn’t do much more investigating than sneaking around following people, so there isn’t much to be solved here, as such. Everyone involved from the halfway point onwards basically knows the identity of the killer and who has hired him, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty more surprises.
The only problem with this one is there’s nobody for the viewers to really like, so it’s hard to have any empathy for any of the characters. Donald is certainly a monster, not just trying to bump off… well, everyone, but taking a perverted pleasure in asking the hitman about his craft. There is some attempt to paint Kersten as one of those noble crooks with standards, which sort of works, but he comes across as just too cold for us to ever really warm to him, although I did love the scene where “that idiot Phillips” is going round making people jump at the party by popping balloons, and gets no reaction whatsoever from Kersten, much to his disappointment (well, there is a very slight flinch, despite a sterling effort from the actor). I suppose the two characters we would have to describe as the heroes are Helene and Robert, but I couldn’t warm to them. They are emotional cheats, which can of course be every bit as damaging to a relationship as physical cheating, and Robert certainly would have gone further given half a chance. With nobody much for us to like, this ends up feeling rather bleak in the end.
That’s a shame, because it was far from being a bleak experience for the actors. Michael Gough (Donald) and Anneke Wills (playing his maid Jacqueline) met while filming this and got married three years later. Anyone watching this out of curiosity to see the blossoming of that relationship will be disappointed, because there is absolutely no on-screen chemistry between them during their few scenes together (although the subtext is that Donald is leching after Jacqueline), unlike the first encounter between Anneke and her pre-Gough partner Anthony Newley in The Strange World of Gurney Slade, which positively crackles.
Despite the absence of any particularly likeable characters, this is a strong entry into the series, and the cool and dangerous Kersten certainly commands our attention. He also gets the best bit of dialogue:
“You might call me a contractor.”
“Of construction work?”
It just goes to show how it’s perfectly possible to create a great hour of drama without building much in the way of viewer empathy for the characters. Instead, this one keeps us guessing right to the end. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Flat Two