Welcome back for the final series of reviews of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries B movies. We are on the seventh DVD set, and I thought it was appropriate to conclude with the last ever Edgar Wallace film, so lets kick things off by looking at the bonus film on this set, Seven Keys, a B movie from 1961. These bonuses have often been the highlight of each set, and this is no exception.
Like many of these kinds of films, the main protagonist is a criminal. The challenge for a writer when making the hero a man who lives his life on the wrong side of the law is getting the viewers to care about his fate. In Seven Keys that is achieved by making Russell (Alan Dobie) charismatic, determined, confident and roguish, giving him a mystery to solve that always keeps us interested, and setting him against a gang of rival criminals who are much more thuggish and unsubtle in their tactics.
The mystery centres on a bunch of keys, which is willed to Russell by a fellow prisoner, to whom he has spoken only a couple of times. He knows they should somehow lead him to £20,000 of stolen money when he gets out of prison, but he doesn’t know which of the keys will help him to find the money, and he doesn’t know why he has been lucky enough to be chosen.
Throughout the course of the film, Russell eliminates each key one by one, often breaking the law to gain access to the locations and objects the keys open. Of course it’s not as easy as opening a box and finding the money inside, but instead Russell finds little clues along the way. It’s all quite ingenious, and the most important “key” is in fact a broken compass attached to the keyring. This is the only aspect of the film that is not very well plotted out by the writers, because the rival gang eventually steal the keys from Russell, but leave him with the keyring. It’s too convenient and an unlikely stroke of luck.
Other than that everything fits together beautifully, including the answer to the question of why the keys were left to Russell in particular. Along the way there are some wonderful cameo appearances from familiar actors such as Peter Barkworth, John Horsley, Philip Locke, and Robertson Hare, who couldn’t help but be loveable and memorable in every role. There is also Colin Gordon in a brief appearance as the current owner of a car that one of the keys fits. In one of many amusing comedy moments in this film, he claims that he can “tell a crook at a glance”, while ironically being completely taken in by a crook pretending to be a policeman. Jeremy Lloyd is also very funny as a prospective buyer of a flat, saying nothing but “not bad”, while his wife enthuses about every detail of the place. The ever-reliable John Carson plays the rival gang leader, and Delphi Lawrence and Jeannie Carson are both great as the two key women mixed up in the mystery.
When a film like this has a criminal as the main character, breaking the law to get what he wants, the ending is almost inevitably going to be downbeat, because justice must be done. Not here. Seven Keys has a lovely, heart-warming ending, with a twist that I never guessed for a second. I have to say, I didn’t quite buy the change of heart, as Russell seemed just a bit too “cold-blooded, ruthless and determined” to make the decision he does, but love does funny things to people. Either way, it’s very satisfying to see a blackmailer get her comeuppance.
Once again, the bonus feature is worth the price of the set on its own. What a golden age this was for cinema, when a B movie could be this entertaining, packed with so many great actors. Seven Keys tells a gripping story quickly and efficiently, without ever losing our interest for a second. A lot of modern film-makers could learn from this. See you next week for the beginning of the end of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: The Main Chance