“I’m going away for a little vacation, the South of France, Italy, Greece, I would like to pay this debt myself before I go… it would make my vacation enjoyable, and much more enjoyable if you came with me, especially a woman like you. You do understand?”
We do. Louba is a creep. He is running a gambling operation, and Susan owes him £10,000. Susan is a bit of an idiot, it has to be said. She doesn’t seem to be an addict, as such, but has been gambling on credit for a year, without ever stopping to ask how much she owes in total so far. She comes across as somebody who thought she was playing a fun game, without thinking about the fact that real money was going to be involved somewhere along the line. The writer is at pains to point out that a gambling debt of this nature is not enforceable in law, but we don’t need to be too skilled at reading between the lines to understand that it’s very enforceable outside of the law. Susan seems to resign herself to paying off the debt with her body, and goes to break up with her fiancé, who is understandably not thrilled with what has happened. He talks the good talk about bumping off Louba (“It think I’ll kill Louba. Well, why not? You don’t need a licence to shoot vermin.”) but it’s pretty obvious that he’s a gentle, kind soul at heart (Jack Watling does a great job as the likeable Frank), and heads off to steal back the IOUs instead. This perhaps indicates that he isn’t the brightest button in the box, much like his girlfriend, because Louba is hardly going to let the debt drop just because he doesn’t have some pieces of paper any more, or if Susan is motivated by the honour of fulfilling her debt obligations, that doesn’t go away either. It’s arguably a bit of a hole in the plot that the story hinges on a man going off to steal some pieces of paper that everyone involved would surely realise are not going to make any difference in the end. Louba doesn’t need pieces of paper to send in the heavy mob.
We don’t get time to worry about that too much, because there’s a major complication when Frank arrives at Louba’s place. Another crim, Charles Berry, is there as well, looking to take what he feels Louba owes him. Frank gets the IOU’s, Berry gets nothing, and the police find Louba dead. Halfway through the film, we have a murder on our hands but the two most likely culprits have been immediately ruled out. We have just seen them very specifically not doing the murdering. It’s all very clever, though, because the writer makes us doubt ourselves later on, as we get so drawn into the drama of the courtroom scenes and almost forget the evidence of our own eyes. Frank is put on trial, and Berry stitches him up, making up a story that he witnessed evidence of Frank killing Louba. Barrister Warden turns the tables on him, and it seems like Berry has lied to throw suspicion on Frank instead of himself, which is of course true, but not to the extent that Berry was the murderer. He just realised he would be in the frame.
The courtroom scenes add a lot of drama to the film, but I’m not sure they make much sense. A case surely wouldn’t come to trial based on the testimony of a crook looking to throw suspicion on somebody else, and little in the way of actual proof. The police involved in the case are genuinely concerned about getting the right person rather than just getting a result, so it seems odd that they would collar Frank for the murder, when he’s very obviously not responsible.
So who is the murderer? This one really isn’t very hard to figure out, and once again we have the problem of a complex story being distilled down into a one hour format, leaving little room for red herrings. We know there was only one other person at the crime scene, and as motiveless and likeable as he appears to be, it’s got to be him. When we eventually find out the motive it all makes perfect sense, and it’s a very sad story.
As usual for these films, the cast is excellent, and includes John Le Mesurier, Barry Keegan and Jack Watling, with Bernard Archard returning to play a third different detective. What really struck me about this one was what a lovely, positive portrayal of the police it was. They are never less than professional in their conduct, but also behave like absolute gentlemen throughout, to the extent that a wrongly-accused man is happy to accept the congratulations of the police and “no hard feelings” after his trial, and those sentiments seem completely genuine. Apart from the murder victim and the lying Charles Berry, everyone in this comes across as a thoroughly nice bunch of people, even the murderer. That helps to make this a pleasant viewing experience, a nice-natured affair compared to most murder mysteries. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: The Share Out