Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court, and it is now my duty to pass sentence… oh, sorry. Wrong series. This is far from being a comedy, but it does start off in a prison cell, with two prisoners who have become best friends taking about their future. Vince and John seem like decent chaps, and are looking forward to getting out and seeing their wives again, but when Vince gets out first, things don’t exactly go according to plan for him.
Vince has the more nuanced character of the two men, and that’s essential for the story being told. Jeremy Kemp does a great job of showing Vince’s emotions without ever quite allowing us a window into his soul. That keeps us guessing as to what he will do in the end, although his motivations are clear. His wife has moved on and is now living with another man, so when he goes to see John’s blind wife and she mistakes him for John, this is his big chance at happiness, especially as John has a huge amount of money from his crimes stashed away somewhere.
Importantly, Vince doesn’t plan for this to happen, and you may find some synopses on the internet misleading in that respect. That would have been an inferior story by miles because it would have made Vince a monster for betraying his friend without conscience. Instead he is swept up in events, and tries to set Mary straight. Have you ever had a moment where somebody gets your name wrong, you fail to correct them, and years later you are still having to go by the incorrect name whenever you see that person, because the moment is long past to correct the mistake? Maybe not, but it does happen, and the Vince/Mary situation is a heightened version of that real-life scenario. Vince finds out that Mary would not have waited any longer for John, with his parole delayed, so that gives him the excuse he needs to keep playing along, and soon he is happy and in love.
“I’ve been more happy these last couple of months than all my life.”
I’m not a fan of an unhappy ending, but realistically this can’t end well. Things are made all the more painful to watch because John is such a likeable chap. It’s a great performance from Philip Locke, who was a familiar face at the time playing criminals, but this role gave him the chance to break away a little from his usual typecasting and play a thoroughly nice guy, who genuinely thinks he has found a meaningful friendship with Vince. Such is the strength of their friendship that the viciousness of his crime didn’t quite ring true to me, although it just about works thanks to the way Kemp keeps Vince a slightly unknown quantity and the temptation by that point is huge. He stands to lose absolutely everything he has in life, and to gain a loving relationship and wealth beyond his dreams. The moral here is a familiar one: money won’t buy happiness, especially stolen money.
The twist in the tale is magnificent, and makes sense of the one big problem I had with the storyline, when the initial misunderstanding that drove the plot seemed to be straining credulity. What transpires is an incredibly sad situation, and it’s a masterpiece of writing that takes us on a journey where we actually feel some sympathy towards a brutal murderer who has betrayed his best friend in the worst possible way. The director is clearly inspired by the material, and there is a stunningly clever moment at the climax to the story where the camera stays fixed on Mary’s face while we hear a fight going on, things being smashed, and a gunshot. We are kept in the dark about what is happening, as much as the sightless Mary, and for a moment we get to share her terror, helplessness and frustration with life that might have led her to be the person she has become. In the end, there is only one survivor from this tale of woe, but there can be no winners. It’s a sad story, but a compelling one that allows us to invest in the characters far more than the average B movie. As we approach the end of this series of films, we are hitting ever higher standards. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Act of Murder
While the addiction to money may prove to still be a serious problem in the real world, it certainly makes a good plot for thriller drama, with Shallow Grave and A Simple Plan being two of the most profound examples I can remember from when I was old enough to see such stories in the cinema. Thanks, RP, for reviewing such a story with this important moral issue.
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