This is a rare treat: an Edgar Wallace Mystery that is actually a mystery. Writer Roger Marshall manages to pack a lot of story into 60 minutes, but I never found it difficult to follow, despite a complicated plot with a few people up to no good, for different reasons. Each time we learn some new information it gives us another piece of the puzzle and makes sense of what we have seen before, while preserving the central mystery until near the end.
A murder mystery works best when there are red herrings, and the obvious way to introduce those is to have characters other than the murderer who are involved in the intrigue, but for different reasons. Here we have our chief suspect (obviously not the murderer, therefore) Jack Heath (Jack Watling) who was at loggerheads with the murder victim, and Jack’s wife who claimed her jewellery was stolen in a robbery, while secretly handing it over to a mysterious man to sell. Matters are complicated further by the fact that the robbery was actually real, and seems to have been committed simply to steal the murder weapon that will implicate Jack. There is also a blackmailer working in the background, and his actions are somehow linked to the murder, although he neither committed nor wanted the crime himself. It all fits together very cleverly, and hinges on a good bit of psychology, concerning the way somebody comes up with a fake name on the spot.
The case is pieced together cleverly and logically by Superintendent Meredith, with Bernard Lee returning for his fourth and final outing as Meredith, and fifth appearance overall in the Edgar Wallace Mysteries. I have previously found his performance competent but not particularly memorable, but this is his best film by far. I don’t know if Lee was inspired by the material, but he is excellent here. He plays the role with a lot of genuinely funny deadpan humour, and delivers some cutting remarks in a way that makes us never doubt for a second that he will stay one step ahead of his enemies in this game of cat and mouse. The Edgar Wallace Mysteries are perhaps not remembered as being in the top flight of murder mysteries simply because these films nearly always lacked a detective character who stuck in the mind, so apart from individual triumphs there is no hook to hang the viewers’ memories on, as per other series that are forever seared into the collective memory of the nation. Most people are familiar with the names Marple, Wexford, Morse, Van Der Valk, Columbo, etc. These films never give us the same iconic main character, and that’s because they are largely an anthology series, rarely sharing characters from one film to another, but Meredith comes closest to fulfilling that role in his four appearances. He saved the best for last, and leaves us wanting more from this no-nonsense detective.
The conviction is achieved, thanks to one little slip on the part of the murderer, and I must admit it escaped my notice until Meredith mentioned it, so that works very well. A clear motive is also important in a mystery, and this one is very well conceived by the writer, because it’s not just about power and money; the murderer also implicates his love rival, which is a factor that is cleverly kept very subtle, with the murderer behaving in a pathetic and slightly creepy way towards the object of his desire. There is a nice little coda at the end, with Meredith pursuing the blackmailer, who is humiliated in defeat. Naturally, that takes place on the obligatory houseboat, which seemed to be a bizarrely common feature in 60s thrillers.
We know all along that Jack is being framed, so it gives nothing away to discuss his innocence here. I just wanted to wrap things up by mentioning how cleverly his own motive crumbles, when it is eventually revealed that he was next in line to take over his uncle’s empire anyway. The two men were at loggerheads over the future of the company, and we were witness to a blistering row between them, but the old man secretly respected his nephew’s forcefulness and honesty, with a boardroom otherwise packed with yes men. It’s an object lesson in standing up for what you believe in. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Face of a Stranger