The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Playback (Review)

Edgar Wallace Mysteries PlaybackVan der Valk fans will enjoy seeing this film, because 11 years before he debuted in his iconic role Barry Foster played bobby on the beat Dave Hollis in this entry into The Edgar Wallace Mysteries series of British B movies. Dave is a lot less competent at his job than Van der Valk, but it’s a great performance from Foster, showing how a basically decent man can give in to temptation and spiral into a desperate situation, where he feels that the only escape is to commit murder. He comes across as a man who is thoroughly out of his depth.

Right from the start, Dave is not a very good policeman. He is easily distracted from his beat by a beautiful woman, Lisa Shillack (Margit Saad). It’s not helping her out that’s the problem, it’s the way he allows himself to be tempted into staying for so long instead of getting on with his job. Then a burglary takes place on a street where he should have been patrolling, and he lies to protect his job, and his chances of getting transferred to CID. In a surprising twist, the woman of his dreams turns out to have a husband. Lisa of course has not mentioned that while she has been plying Dave with her Irish coffee and doe eyes.

At that point it feels like something is missing from the film. All of a sudden the action switches to a gambling club, where Lisa and Dave are meeting discreetly and are having an affair. This is a really jarring transition, with no explanation as to how and why Dave kept seeing Lisa, when the last thing we saw was Dave meeting her husband Simon (George Pravda) and leaving. One would assume that would be the end of the matter, but then we have this huge leap to the two of them in an apparently established affair and Dave as a gambling addict all of a sudden, having run up some large debts. This brings Dave to the point where he is willing to consider murder.

“Simon’s rich, and he’s heavily insured.”

The writing never quite brings us to the point where it seems realistic to view Dave as somebody who will fall for all this. Yes, he’s an idiot, but earlier in the film he seemed to be basically a good bloke, and the situation he is in doesn’t seem desperate enough. He gets beaten up by the henchmen working for Ralph Monk (Nigel Green) and they don’t seem to be at all concerned about the potential consequences of assaulting a police officer. The barrier to him using his police power and connections to bring them to justice seems to be the threat to tell his superiors about the affair, but he’s considering leaving the police force anyway. I suppose it works reasonably well as a portrayal of a man whose mind is clouded by his gambling addiction and his infatuation with a married woman. Maybe he just isn’t thinking straight, but it still takes some believing that Dave would actually carry out the murder.

The twist in the tale is unsurprising. Lisa is in cahoots with Monk, and the two of them have stitched up Dave. The logic is hard to follow here. Was it really Lisa’s plan from the start, when she tempted Dave into her house? If so, it certainly seems like an ambitious plan, and one that was unlikely to succeed, ensnaring a random policeman and turning him into a killer. Initially I assumed that he was being distracted so that a robbery could take place down the road, and yet that is never confirmed. It would have made more sense of the murder plot if the writer had clarified that events spiralled for Lisa just as much as they did for Dave, starting off with Dave being distracted from a robbery and then Lisa realising Dave could be useful to commit a bigger crime. Perhaps the reason that is never made clear is that it really doesn’t work either. Lisa is married to a rich man, and presumably doesn’t need to earn money from a share of a robbery, unless she has no access to her husband’s money… but this is just a whole bunch of questions with no answers. The narrative is far too fuzzy, and appears to hang on a couple of massive coincidences: firstly the robbery down the street, and then later the neighbour just happening to be a speech therapist, which is absurdly convenient for the detective on the case.

In the end this is rather a bleak and unsatisfying story. It’s a thriller, not a mystery, with the only questions being how Dave will get caught (not if he will, because we see him on trial at the start), and if Lisa will get caught out as well. The latter question is settled with an act of revenge, but Monk and his thugs apparently get away with their crimes. It’s all a bit unpleasant. The other problem is that no drama is ever going to work all that well if there are no characters for us to like. The only nice guy here really is Dave’s buddy Joe (Dinsdale Landen), but his role is a minor one. He gets shot by Dave when he escapes arrest, which makes Dave even less of a sympathetic character to the viewers, a man who will shoot his best friend to get what he wants. So Dave is an idiot who falls for Lisa’s tricks because he’s thinking with something other than his brain, a gambling addict, and a man whose only reservations about murdering a fellow human being seem to be that he worries about getting caught. When he was double crossed, my only reaction to that was it really served him right for being a murdering fool. It was a gripping film that held my attention, but in the end I just couldn’t care less about the fate of the main character. Very recently in this film series we saw another idiot drawn into criminal activities for financial gain and the love of a woman (Time to Remember), and here we have the same idea again. It’s a formula I’m not keen to see repeated.   RP

Read next in the Junkyard… Breakout (1959) Film Review

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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1 Response to The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Playback (Review)

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Repeatable formulas in thrillers may have endured for decades. Nowadays it’s easy to look back on how wearisome they can often become. It’s interesting however that the screenplay for Playback is written by Robert Banks Stewart, who is famous for writing Doctor Who: Terror Of The Zygons and The Seeds Of Doom. There is also the notable casting of Dinsdale Landen who played the charming investigator Matthew Earp in two episodes of Brian Clemens’ Thriller.

    Thanks, RP.

    Liked by 1 person

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