This 1962 instalment in the Edgar Wallace Mysteries film series demands the viewer’s full attention. The problem is, it doesn’t earn the viewer’s full attention as well. The story is incredibly complex for a 50 minute film. The idea is that a man is found dead by a private investigator he has hired. The body in question is of Bennett Sanders, whose business partner Frank Griffiths is up to no good. Having found that out, and threatened Frank that he will expose his crimes if he doesn’t stop, Bennett has been understandably concerned for his own safety, hence his hiring of Craig to keep him safe. A very large bodyguard might have been a wiser decision, because Craig stumbles upon his employer’s body and then gets knocked out himself.
By the time the police arrive, the body has disappeared, although there is some blood left behind as evidence. The mystery is built on a few questions: where has the body gone, why was it moved, and why was Craig left alive by the murderer? Meanwhile, Griffiths has left the country.
This film series specialises in eschewing detectives in favour of alternative investigators whose lines of work are tangential to police work, such as insurance claims investigators. This time it’s the turn of a newspaper reporter, Simon York, who oddly seems able to stroll into a crime scene and act as if he’s a detective. Eddie Byrne makes for a competent but not especially charismatic lead as York. The actual inspector on the case is played by John Glyn-Jones, Inspector Roon, and he is a little more memorable than York despite having less to do. Roon comes across as a very clever detective, after initially appearing to be far too attached to his procedures and principles, as if he is a bit stuck in his ways. Cleverly, his insistence that it isn’t a murder until he has a body, likely to provoke an eye-roll from the viewers, turns out to be… well, a quick warning first before we go down that route: every mention of this film I’ve found on the internet, including a scan of a contemporary review in a magazine from 1962, starts by spoiling the twist in the first couple of sentences. That’s because this is a very difficult film to discuss without talking about the twist in the tale, but I’ve refrained from doing that so far. From here on in, this gets spoilerific.
So, having laughed off the detective’s insistence that it might not be a murder, despite a reliable witness and a pool of blood, I was very impressed when he turned out to be exactly right. The murder was staged. I suppose it’s reasonably guessable, but matters are so complicated that the writer at the very least has managed to distract the viewer from thinking too deeply about the actual murder at that point. Sanders and Griffiths have a bewildering array of close contacts with potential motives. For a start, Sanders appears to have two girlfriends, both much younger than himself. York unravelling these connections is at the heart of the film, and it tends to be tedious and confusing, while the film overstretches its budget when York catches a plane to some stock footage of Rome. The pay-off is strong, with a whirlwind ending, but getting there is a chore. Ironically, the plot is incredibly convoluted and hard to follow, but the director sees fit to devote a few minutes to a complete performance of a song by one of Sanders’ lady-friends. It’s an enjoyable distraction, but the time might have been better spent clarifying the tangled web the antagonists have woven, or bringing some of the more important characters to life a bit more, especially as singer/girlfriend Julie’s role in the affair is fairly tangential to the mystery.
On paper the premise of this one sounds really promising, but the execution of the idea is at fault. The director doesn’t do much wrong as such, but he is hampered by a largely mediocre cast (very unusual for this film series) and a complex story that really doesn’t fit well within the 50 minute format. When one of the characters says, “this could go on for weeks,” I knew exactly how she felt. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Death Trap