It’s strange that this series of B movies was promoted as mystery thrillers when they are almost always nothing of the sort. In We Shall See there isn’t even a crime committed until there are only four minutes of the film remaining, nobody is held accountable for their actions and we are not even told who the murderer is. Instead, this is a portrait of a psychopathic woman making everybody’s lives a misery, especially her husband.
I use the word “psychopathic” precisely, because it is confirmed that Alva Collins has that mental condition. That is revealed to us about halfway through the film, giving us plenty of time to build up a hatred of the character before realising that she isn’t entirely responsible for her actions. She is horrible to her husband Evan, trying to force him to give up his career, belittling him and making anonymous calls to badmouth him to his boss. Her words really sting, especially when she says he would have been a bad father if they had had children, and those words prey on his mind so much that he has a car accident. Alva then claims he was drunk, when in fact she had thrown brandy over him, which made him smell like he had been drinking. Basically she’s a nasty schemer. She even goes as far as to risk his recovery in hospital by waking him when told not to by the nurse, only to berate him and lie about the severity of his condition, making him think he will never be able to fly again when he is in fact capable of making a full recovery.
So she comes across as an absolute monster, until we learn of her condition, which forces us to maybe take a look at how we respond to people who behave badly and the assumptions we make. It’s impossible to tell the extent to which her condition is making her do the things she does, or whether she really is just a nasty piece of work, but where we inevitably stood in judgement as viewers perhaps some compassion was called for. The key moment comes after she has left her husband and is still trying to be a thorn in his side, and it’s as if she realises what she is doing for the first time. She looks remorseful, distraught and confused, asking, “why do I do these things? What’s the matter with me?”
At the same time, we can’t help but feel relieved when she removes herself from her husband’s life, and it’s all too tempting to consider her demise as a triumphant moment. The true nature of her death plays with our emotions again. Even with her last desperate act, she was both helpless and a little bit vindictive.
The last-minute mystery of who attempted to kill her is, on the face of it, an odd piece of writing. Within the space of four minutes we have had the crime, the Agatha Christie moment with the suspects assembled by the detective (amusingly lampshaded with the words “arrest the butler and then we can all relax”), and then an odd anticlimax with nobody convicted of anything and an unsolved mystery. However, I think this works very well, because ultimately it doesn’t matter who put the bees into the bedroom. Everybody had a motive and everybody was pleased by Alva’s death. I think if you pay attention it’s obvious that Evan and Rosemary (the nurse with whom he finds happiness) were both involved. The servants whose future was being threatened by Alva may have been in on it too, but Rosemary knew about the basket used to transport the bees, using the correct terminology (skep), while Evan reassures her with the words “we didn’t kill her”, which only makes sense if they tried to.
We Shall See takes us on a journey where we quite naturally root for Evan and the new love of his life, we root for the brother whom Alva sees as a traitor, who is after her money, and his girlfriend Jirina, a servant at the house, and we root for her beekeeping uncle Ludo, who has lived on the property before the Collins’ even moved in. All of them had a common enemy in Alva, and she behaves monstrously towards them, so it’s also natural that we enjoy her demise, but we are never quite allowed to celebrate the triumph of all the characters we like getting exactly what they want, because it is a tainted victory, overshadowed by the death of a mentally unwell woman who “only wanted to be loved”, and the guilt they will all carry with them. We are invited to stand in judgement and then our judgement is questioned. A film that challenges the viewer so effectively is a very worthwhile piece of work. It’s quite a sting in the tale. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Who Was Maddox?
Having our judgment, as understandable as our judgment may be, of certain characters and stories challenged is something that I learn to embrace thanks to many reviews I’ve read on WordPress. It certainly benefits our wisdom when we can look even further back in retrospect. So it’s fitting that shows like the Edgar Wallace Mysteries were made in the time that they were. Thanks, RP, for your review.
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