When a husband finds out that his wife is having an affair, he could be expected to be somewhat aggrieved about that. Not so for Alan Phipps (Richard Leech), who instead decides to team up with his wife’s boyfriend John Brodie (Alex Scott) and blackmail his wife Yvonne (Maxine Audley), using some love letters. Anyone who has watched a few crime dramas will know that the life expectancy of a blackmailer is very short, and this is no exception. Predictably, Yvonne ends up shooting John. Has Alan just killed two birds with one stone?
It certainly looks that way for most of the film, and in fact things go even better than Alan could possibly have planned. He was hoping to frame his wife, but in the end she does everything possible to incriminate herself, leaving behind a body, a gun, the money and the letters. Inspector Cummings doesn’t exactly have much investigating to do. It’s unusual to see the magnificent Patrick Magee in the role of the inspector, because he was an actor who was far better suited to playing villains, with an air of menace and a voice that’s as sharp as a knife.
For the majority of the film, it’s hard to see how Alan could possibly be caught out. It looks like the perfect crime, by dint of the fact that his wife is actually guilty of murder. All he has to do is avoid being implicated himself, and he strengthens his position very cleverly by making it look like he cares about his wife, trying to cover for her. When the inspector arrests his wife, leaving him in the clear, his laughter says it all. He has won.
… and then John’s partner in crime turns up, a man whose existence behind the scenes Alan was entirely unaware of. That twist really brings the film to life, and Dudley Foster is great as the sinister and sneaky Peter Dexter. I loved how much this story twisted and turned, with the blackmailer becoming a victim of blackmailing, and then for a while it looks like the tables have been turned again. It helps that we have been primed for blackmailing to be a profession that inevitably leads to the demise of the blackmailer, so when Alan pulls out a gun things aren’t looking good for Dexter. It helps that Foster really sells the moment, looking genuinely rattled by that turn of events. Although he has the police standing by, as we later discover, that reaction still makes sense, because it’s a moment of extreme danger, and the tension is ramped up while Alan waits for the music to swell to a point where the gunshot will not be heard. The punchline is great: Dexter’s “conscience wouldn’t allow it”, and that really means that Yvonne offered him more money.
I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand it’s a satisfying conclusion, with Alan getting his comeuppance. On the other hand, the moment of triumph is slightly tainted by the fact that the real winner here is a criminal associate of Yvonne’s boyfriend. Alan wanted to reclaim his pride in his own life. He went about it in a cruel and murderous manner, but he becomes so much our viewer perspective character that it’s something of a bitter pill to see him so comprehensively defeated by a superior criminal mind, and an inspector who has every aspect of the case handed to him on a platter. But the twists throughout the film help to keep things interesting, and the location filming is atmospheric, helped by the fact that this was made during the harsh, snowy winter of 1962-3. Against that chilly backdrop, the coldest thing in this film turns out to be the heart of Peter Dexter, the criminal who walks away with a fortune, and the icy look he gives his victim. RP
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