The first twenty minutes of this one-hour B movie are logical enough. Tim Ford (the excellent John Carson) is trying to get former actress Anne Longman (Justine Lord) to return to acting, because he is in love with her, but she has moved on and is content living with her husband Ralph (Anthony Bate), tending to her plants and looking after her dog and her budgies, and feeding the chickens. Both men in Anne’s life are hard to warm to. Tim kicks the dog in anger, which immediately qualifies him as an unredeemable villain in my book, while Ralph is a jealous and emotionally controlling husband:
“If you ever left me I’d disappear completely.”
“How terrible darling.”
“You won’t let me disappear, will you?”
Ralph and Anne have arranged a house swap for a holiday, which seems like a good idea on paper. They get a holiday in London, staying in a flat with a maid. The other couple get a holiday in the country, and no money needs to be spent. There’s just one problem with that. Supposing the flat in London is a fake address, and the other couple are criminals who have brought along a removal van to clear the house of its valuables. The police sergeant sums things up very well:
“For some reason people like yourself are inclined to hand over the entire contents of their houses to complete strangers on the strength of a piece of embossed note paper. Isn’t much of an exchange, is it, sir.”
Tim arrives, tries to intervene (by hiding in the garden until it’s dark rather than phoning the police, oddly), and gets hit. The criminals make good their escape and Tim goes into the house to… not phone the police. Then we get the huge twist that sets this film head and shoulders above most of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Ralph and Anne return home to find nothing missing.
This is all incredibly creepy, because it just defies logic. Things get even more scary when Anne discovers that her plants are dead, and then the chickens and budgies are poisoned. Finally, in a very sad moment, the dog’s dead body is found. Each new shocking development is punctuated by the kind of music that will be familiar to fans of horror. This is uncomfortable viewing, and suggests an unhinged mind.
It soon becomes clear what is going on here, and Tim obviously has to be the culprit, but there is a massive hole in the logic of this story. The writer tries to get around the problem by ignoring it, but the last we saw of Tim he was in the house with the phone ringing, and the criminals were long gone. We are supposed to accept that he somehow went after the criminals, got all the stuff back (how?) and put it all back in the house (bearing in mind it took hours to load up), and did all that before the police could arrive. Realistically, a phone call from London to the local station would have brought a policeman around in minutes. But Tim even had time to kill the plants with a blow torch, and murder all the animals. It’s just complete and utter nonsense, but somehow the writer pretending the problem doesn’t exist just about works, and that’s because the drama that follows is so well written and acted that it sweeps you along.
There are no innocent parties here. Ralph is controlling, Anne cheats on him, and Tim is a psychopath, but the shocking and sad ending is hard to watch. These films don’t often like to leave the viewers with a rosy outlook on life. Instead, our rosy outlook is blasted with a blow torch. “A bit twisted, eh?” RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Never Mention Murder
Defiance of logic is certainly creepy as it is imaginably meant to build up to a climactic surprise or twist. Casting John Carson helps, reflecting on his Thriller performances for Possession and Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are where I had first seen him. Having no innocents for the cast of characters can either be depressing or fun, either way a reminder of how such thriller or mystery dramas can be the most entertaining havens for such roles. Particularly when we have a title like “Act Of Murder”. Thanks, RP, for your review.
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