Any filmed mystery series will probably set a story at a film studio eventually. It’s not hard to see why it would be so tempting to do that. You don’t have to build any sets, you don’t have to travel to a location, or get permission and pay fees to film somewhere else. You get exterior shots without travelling to them. You also have a ready-made location that is visually interesting and impressive, so it’s a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you? The Partner was filmed in and around Merton Park Studios in London, and it’s a bonus to get little glimpses into the world that produced this remarkable series of Edgar Wallace B movies. It’s also fascinating to see how small the studios were. Great things were achieved with modest resources. The studios are very much one of the stars of this film.
That’s a very good thing, because the human stars are generally disappointing, with few memorable performances. The best of the bunch are Ewan Roberts as Detective Inspector Simons and Guy Doleman as Wayne Douglas, although I doubt I will remember much about either of their performances after a few weeks. Yoko Tani as Lin Siyan and Mark Eden as Richard Webb are both surprisingly wooden, and Anthony Booth (future father-in-law to Prime Minister Tony Blair) and John Forgeham as young idiots Buddy Forrester and Adrian Marlowe are just irritating. Helen Lindsay is entirely forgettable as Wayne’s wife Helen. By the way, if you think Wayne is an unusual choice of name for a film producer at the time, his first name and surname were presumably tributes to two of the biggest film stars in the 1960s.
The story starts well, and it’s another of those stories where everyone is up to no good. Wayne has been involved in a tax avoidance scheme to the tune of £300,000 with the help of his chief accountant Charles Briers (Noel Johnson). Lead actress Lin has been roped into their scheme, although I struggled to figure out exactly how or why. Then Briers shows up dead, and it looks like just about everyone in Wayne’s life had some involvement in trying to swindle or steal money from him. What follows is extremely convoluted and hard to understand. It’s a film that could really do with a second viewing, but it rarely holds the attention sufficiently to justify that.
The murder mystery aspect of the story works well. We are treated to the sight of a dead body in a water tank, which is very creepy, and there is some good basic detecting after that to establish that Charles had bath salts in his lungs, so had to have been drowned elsewhere and then moved. That creates a problem for the two people who claim to have seen him when he would already have been dead. A missing piece of cufflink also proves to be an important clue. Less effective is the question of exactly who did what in this whole web of intrigue, and what their individual motives were, because it’s all a bit too complicated, and this film shares a problem with many others in the series. It’s something I had to discuss last time as well: there’s nobody here to like. Just about everyone has been involved in criminal activity of one kind or another, so there’s nobody really to care about. The interest therefore only can be derived from seeing the detective unravel the mystery, but for that to work the detective has to be a fun character to watch. Detective Simons is no Columbo or Holmes. There just isn’t really an interesting character to bring this to life. When the bullets eventually start flying, it’s hard to care too much about who they hit. The attempted additional murders do keep things ticking along though, for those who aren’t following the mystery particularly closely. The twist ending that reveals the identity of the main perpetrator is also reasonably effective, but overall this has to be a strong candidate for the weakest film in the series so far, despite the gift of the film studio location. Somehow the whole manages to be less than the sum of its parts. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Accidental Death