What’s happened to the theme music? Michael Carr’s familiar Man of Mystery is gone, to be replaced by a load of random bangs and crashes, as if a child has got hold of a drum kit. Much more familiar is the plot of this film, which pits one gang of criminals against another. The Edgar Wallace Mysteries often played with this idea, making us root for the “good” criminals (often the smaller operation) who are generally out of their league in the world of serious, organised, big stakes crime. Our good-ish guy this time is Michael Blake (Edward de Souza), a former air force pilot who was dishonourably discharged, and now makes money at cards and loses it on the horses.
Blake is targeted by crime boss Potter (Gregoire Aslan), who thinks he will be the perfect person to run a little errand, flying a light aircraft to pick up and deliver a mysterious package. Blake is having none of that, so Potter simply arranges for all his money to be stolen, leaving him unable to pay his gambling debts and with little choice other than to take the job.
Aslan is certainly watchable and entertaining as Potter, but I’m not sure he was quite right for the role. There is a quiet politeness about him, and that can work very well for dangerous, powerful crime-lords. Patrick Magee comes to mind as an actor who did this kind of thing brilliantly and in fact did exactly that as Ben Black in the Edgar Wallace film Never Back Losers. The difference is, he had a dangerous edge to his performance, an air of menace undercutting the civility. You could believe that he could command respect and inspire fear, without ever needing to raise his voice. Not so, Potter, who is almost cuddly. He talks a good talk, but in the end it’s unsurprising when his best laid plays gang agley.
The point of all this is what will happen during Blake’s flight, and that doesn’t start until 44 minutes into the 58 minute film. Up to that point we are largely playing a waiting game, and the pace is slow. Potter shows off his secret computer room, where “fiction becomes reality”, and yet that plays no part in the story until the 54 minute mark, when it turns out to be a radar device and otherwise irrelevant to the story, so it all seems like a bit of odd not-quite-sci-fi, an awkward fit with the rest of the story. There are also tedious moments such as Potter watching people drive off or arrive on his CCTV, which probably seemed remarkable at the time, but now seems pointless, gaining him no useful information. Amusingly, his office doors open and close themselves. Only in the 60s did people imagine a future where automatic doors would be made of wood.
Luckily, the last fifteen minutes of the film are excellent, with double crossing and more double crossing, showing how it doesn’t matter how foolproof a plan seems to be, because there will always be an unexpected element. Potter is double crossed in more ways than one, and he’s not the only one to get double crossed. It’s a fabulous game of cat and mouse, with a plan B already anticipated, and two criminal factions thrown together and still unable to avoid being a bunch of losers. There are some great twists and turns packed into those last few minutes.
So what’s the moral of this story? If you ask somebody to do a job and they don’t want to, you’re probably better off finding somebody else. Oh, and of course pride comes before a fall. If you ever think you’ve thought of everything, you haven’t. You might be completely certain life is going to give you diamonds, but they can just as easily turn into a briefcase full of stones. If that happens, you might need more than a plan B. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Game for Three Losers