Nadja Regin is back for her third appearance in an Edgar Wallace Mysteries B-movie. It had been a good couple of years since Number Six and Solo for Sparrow, because she had become a Bond girl, appearing in both From Russia with Love and Goldfinger. Her performance in Downfall unsurprisingly exudes confidence, and she commands the attention of the viewer in every scene, which isn’t easy when acting against legends like Maurice Denham and T.P. McKenna, both of whom are superb here.
Denham plays a barrister who is trapped in a loveless marriage. They seem like a completely mismatched couple. Sir Harold was just looking for a trophy wife to go with his success and fame, while Suzanne thought it would be fun to be his wife.
“What a bore that turned out to be.”
Sir Harold hatches a plan to have her bumped off, without actually hiring somebody to do that, and also keeping his hands clean. He has just successfully defended a man who was accused of murdering a woman, Martin Somers (McKenna), and his profile is that of a woman-hater who killed his victim when she got too close to him. Sir Harold talks the good talk about believing in his client’s innocence, but “like all criminal lawyers, he doesn’t know what conscience is.” So he employs Martin as a “chauffeur, valet and general handyman”, in the hope of being able to engineer a relationship between Martin and Suzanne, which should result in her murder if his true opinion of Martin is correct.
It shouldn’t take much engineering, because Suzanne has already been having affairs behind Martin’s back, and doesn’t particularly care if he finds out about them. She actually encourages him to get a girlfriend of his own, and there is more than a hint that he is in love with Jane (Ellen McIntosh), the solicitor who assists him with his cases. The look on his face when she reveals she is engaged seems like karma. Her love interest is Tom Cotterell, played by Peter Barkworth, who often employs a similarly hesitant line delivery as he did in Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors.
Sir Harold does his best to engineer the crime, arranging a weekend away while his wife will be in the company of Martin, and even arming him on the pretext of guarding the house, providing him with a convenient murder weapon. The first of two major twists comes when Sir Harold is taken aside for a quiet chat by Lord Hinchcliffe (John Miller) and warned that a scandal would have serious implications for his future career. This causes a change of heart, and Sir Harold rushes home to prevent the crime. This is the weakest aspect of the plot, because Sir Harold is a very intelligent man and a schemer, so it beggars belief that he wouldn’t have identified this problem himself already. His plan, despite seeming superficially clever, is also very hit-and-miss. For the conclusion of this article I have to spoil the big twist at the end, so look away now if you are not familiar with the film.
I didn’t get too far into Downfall before I was speculating whether Martin really was innocent, and thinking how amusing it would be if Sir Harold had simply brought a harmless man into his wife’s life and set them up together in a relationship. That is of course exactly what happens, which made for a very satisfying conclusion, although it was perhaps made a bit too obvious by McKenna’s performance as Martin. It would have helped if he had kept us guessing by giving the character more of a sinister edge to him, but instead he is always so calm and nice-natured that it’s impossible to believe that he presents a genuine threat. Despite that, Sir Harold’s downfall is still satisfying, because he obviously thinks he can blame Martin and everybody will believe the word of a barrister over the word of a man who escaped justice by a narrow margin. The absolute proof of Martin’s innocence comes at the perfect moment to hoist Sir Harold with his own petard, although it does make the story hinge on a stroke of luck for Martin and some very convenient timing. Even with these few issues in the plotting of the story, this is still one of the best entries in the series, and serves as an effective condemnation of a particular subset of lawyers who separate their work from their morality. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: The Verdict