When barrister and politician Sir Harold Trevitt (Michael Goodliffe) shares an impromptu kiss with his neighbour Maxine Hagen (Dawn Addams), her maid Paula (Mia Karam) catches them in the act and then blackmails them. It seems the Edgar Wallace Mysteries film series has some kind of a blackmail story for us nearly every time recently, but this one plays out very differently, because Sir Harold doesn’t immediately strangle the maid or pull a gun on her or something like that. Instead he hires a private detective and eventually gives in and pays her. As John Durran the private detective says, “you never finish paying a blackmailer”, and of course the payment becomes just the first instalment.
At this point I was wondering what the mystery element was going to be, and then everything changes. And then everything changes again. And again. I don’t think I have ever seen so many twists and turns in a story packed into less than an hour of drama. Each time, everything we thought was the truth turns out to be wrong; just as we are getting used to the new facts of the case, those turn out to be wrong too, and so it goes on.
The first big twist appears to be the fact that Paula is actually working for Maxine’s husband Leo (Anthony Newlands), the man they were trying to keep in the dark about what’s going on. It’s all a huge set-up, but then Paula shows up dead and it looks as if Leo is trying to frame Harold. Then Leo becomes our second blackmailer, and eventually our second dead body. Finally we have a third blackmailer, and we still haven’t reached the point where we’ve found out who the main culprit is. It’s all quite a sordid affair, and it’s one of those stories where we can’t trust anyone. The private detective seems to be the exception to that rule, until he starts kissing Maxine and telling her he’s in love with her, having spent all of five minutes in her company, but therein lies yet another twist in the tale.
At the end there’s a gotcha moment, similar to a Columbo episode, but it hinges on a bluff from the detective (Alfred Burke) that doesn’t quite hang together. The climax to the story eschews the usual kind of action set-piece we tend to get with this film series, instead going for something a bit more like an Agatha Christie, with the major players assembled together in a room with the detective (well, the major players left alive), and some very useful flashbacks to clarify the plot. The whole thing holds together brilliantly, despite the intricate story, but if you let your mind wander for even a minute you’ll be completely lost watching this one. It demands our full attention. Anyone who thinks older films tend to be slow moving needs to watch this one. There’s enough story to fill double the running time, quite comfortably.
Unlike the previous film, there is no weak link amongst the cast to detract from our enjoyment of the story. Paul Whitsun-Jones turns up in one of his typical roles. If there’s a room full of people and one of the characters is played by him, it’ll always be the most annoying person in the room, and that certainly applies to journalist Charles Pinder. I couldn’t quite understand why he would be invited to all these social functions, especially as he’s just there to look out for gossip to print in his newspaper column the next day, amusingly titled “Pinder’s Penetrating Paragraphs”. I was hoping he would end up on the receiving end of somebody’s penetrating bullet, but disappointingly he was not among the considerable body count.
Private investigator John Durran points out that “blackmail is a profession”. In the end, I suppose this is yet another example of blackmail being the shortest ever profession. In an Edgar Wallace Mystery, a £20,000 kiss was always going to be the kiss of death. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: On the Run