The sub-one-hour format of these Edgar Wallace Mysteries often necessitates a compressed form of storytelling in order to fit everything in. Some writers handled that better than others. For The Double, screenplay writers Lindsay Galloway and John Roddick start their story at a sprint and never really pause for breath. The problem with this is that they seem to forget that just because they understand what their story is about, that doesn’t mean that the viewers do.
It’s almost as if they assume we will simply figure things out as we go along, and inevitably that does happen, but it takes a while. Even by the halfway point of this film, no crime seemed to have been committed and it was unclear what we were watching, or why we would want to watch it. That has the bizarre effect of trying our patience, while actually being a fast-moving narrative.
In a way it shows a respect for the viewers when a story leaves us behind and assumes we will catch up, but there’s a problem with that. Without fully understanding the main characters or what they are up to, we are not really given a reason to care about them and their rather odd lives. Mary Winston is an enigma in particular. She is investigating the background of John Cleeve, an amnesiac in her care, and is driven enough in that quest to persuade a solicitor friend to act in a manner that could get him struck off, but her motivations for doing this are unclear because the writers allow no room for characterisation. The film begins with Mary already on her obsessive quest, which is hard to rationalise, considering that the man she is risking everything to help remembers committing a murder.
When we finally get some answers they are good ones, and in the end this is a compelling story about two former friends who have switched identities. There are some really exciting moments, particularly the wheelchair at the top of the stairs near the end, although the impact of that scene is slightly lessened by the fact that we have already seen “John” jump out of his wheelchair. That was a fun moment and a great bit of location filming at a cliff top, but the big finale would have packed more of a punch without that earlier scene. The best moment of the film is thanks to some brilliant direction from Lionel Harris, who goes for close up shots of Mary’s hands when she is searching through papers around a house, so when she uncovers a dead body it fills the screen and gives us a huge jump. I think I literally leapt up in the air when that happened.
Towards the end, Hamilton Dyce turns up as a detective, and he’s far too good an actor to only get a few minutes at the end of the film. Then we get the moment where the two main characters who have swapped lives meet for the first time, which is held off as long as possible for the maximum impact. The moment doesn’t disappoint, and their conversation is so rich with wordplay that it’s almost poetic.
I haven’t read the Edgar Wallace novel on which this film is based, but looking at the synopsis it doesn’t seem to bear much relation to the film. That’s a shame, because it sounds like a much better story. This film series sometimes seems to take a traditional detective story and turn it into… well, I’m not sure what this is trying to be, but as is so often the case the role of the detective in trying to investigate the mystery is given over to somebody else. That’s fine if there’s a reason for doing so, but in this example the end result is just some sketchy characterisation with unclear motives. That makes this a confusing viewing experience, and one where it’s hard to care about what happens much, one way or the other. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: The Rivals