We are going back in time to 1960 for The Malpas Mystery, which was the third of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries B movies. As it was made at a different studio its inclusion in the series is apparently debatable, although I can’t quite grasp that line of thinking, but it is included as an extra on the sixth volume of the DVDs. That seems an odd decision, as it would have made more sense to include it on the first volume, where it could be watched in its original context. Either way, this is not a film that should be skipped just because it’s listed as a bonus, because it’s one of the best of the series.
The Edgar Wallace Mysteries vary in their approach to crime drama, but they are rarely frightening. This is a glorious exception. Lacey Marshalt (Allan Cuthbertson) lives next door to a mysterious man named Malpas, who makes strange “knock and creaks and the noise of heavy stuff being shoved around”. When we get to see inside his neighbour’s house, it’s incredibly creepy. The door opens on its own, the interior is dark and cobwebby, and a man in a mask sits behind a desk in an upstairs room. We only catch a glimpse of him in the shadows each time we see him, but it’s clear that we are not looking at a human face, so what we see plays havoc with the uncanny valley response.
An intricate story is built up around this mysterious neighbour, who seems to be some kind of a crime boss. He is working with Marshalt’s girlfriend Dora, and she is trying to con a rich man out of his diamonds by pretending to be his long lost daughter. Presumably the original plan is to stage a kidnapping and ask for a ransom in diamonds, and when Torrington (Geoffrey Keen) proves too savvy for them they have to revert to plan B, the actual kidnapping of his real daughter. We eventually get some shocking scenes with the villain trying to force himself on his victim, before locking her up in a hidden room in his house.
There are some great twists and turns, packed into less than an hour of gripping drama. In contrast with a lot of these B movies, we actually have a couple of heroes to root for, Inspector Dick Shannon (Ronald Howard) and Torrington’s real daughter Audrey (Maureen Swanson). In a very exciting moment Torrington hears gunshots, kicks down a door, finds a dead body on the other side of the door, and then returns with a couple of police officers to find the body missing and no sign of an attacker. The action moves to the roof, which is always a great location for these thrillers, where we can see one character hiding and we later discover another was there as well. A former enemy of Torrington’s who has changed his name makes for a useful red herring, muddying the waters even further.
The identity of Malpas is quite easily guessable, and is really beyond any doubt when the corpse shows up alive and well. There is some attempt to befuddle the viewer after that with lines such as this:
“She’d never marry something that looks like a nightmare.”
… which seems to imply somebody deformed in some way behind the mask. It’s a meaningless cheat on the part of the writers, and their plotting also relies on us failing to think back to the party earlier in the film, when Marshalt was complaining to the inspector about his neighbour, needlessly drawing police attention to Malpas, but a few plot holes can’t spoil the enjoyment of this excellent film. When considered in its original context as one of the very first entries in the series, it’s not surprising there was enough demand for these that nearly 50 films were eventually made.
We will return to The Edgar Wallace Mysteries in a few weeks, for the last five films in the series. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Seven Keys (1961)