The majority of these Edgar Wallace Mysteries seem to fall into two categories: crooks vs crooks, or blackmail plots. This is the latter, although it’s quite unusual because there are no fatalities. Normally, blackmail is the briefest ever profession and we can expect a blackmailer to wind up dead within minutes. This is a much more protracted affair, with the blackmailer dragged through the courts.
The three losers of the title are a politician, his new secretary, and her boyfriend. The secretary, Frankie (Toby Robins) is the closest we come to an innocent party in all this, but she does seem to encourage her boss’s advances, welcoming his kiss, and inviting him to her flat, although that amounts to nothing in the end, much to the incredulity of the barrister who ends up questioning him about the affair. Frankie is honest to a fault in the end, openly telling her boyfriend what happened, which he is entirely unthreatened about, but it gives him the idea for the blackmail. Frankie’s fate is really sad. Apart from encouraging the affair, she doesn’t do much wrong, and tries to stop her boyfriend from blackmailing her boss. Eventually he leaves her, setting her off in a downward spiral of alcoholism, and the final moments of the film are a tragic picture of a woman who has always been at the mercy of the men in her life, falling victim to another predatory man.
Frankie’s boyfriend is Oliver (Mark Eden), an irredeemable character who is also a fool. He insists on pleading not guilty despite the advice of his lawyers, presumably due to some twisted vendetta against his victim, and in the end is rewarded with seven years penal servitude. There is little pleasure in seeing him get his comeuppance, because it is never really in doubt. We are told that it’s an open and shut case so we are waiting for the inevitable, and we are also left to guess about his motivations, as the writer stops focussing on him altogether when the trial begins, so we are not privy to his thought processes. The writing is actually very odd for the second half of the film, and badly paced. We get a sudden cut from just before the final meeting between blackmailer and victim to the first court hearing, completely missing out an aspect of the story that could have been quite exciting, with the police springing their trap.
The blackmail victim is Robert Hilary (Michael Gough), who is an important politician. We can safely assume that he is a government minister, as he mentions keeping the cabinet waiting, so he has a lot to lose.
“If your private life doesn’t stack up, what price your public?”
How things have changed. Oddly, the story punishes honesty and keeping within the law. Robert’s only crime is a kiss, which is admittedly a pretty unpleasant moment, but after that he does the right thing, resisting the temptation of being in Frankie’s flat with her alone, and going through the correct legal channels to deal with the blackmail. The case should have been heard in private, and his solicitor is quite right that making the case public will discourage blackmail victims from coming forward and therefore make life easier for criminals, but the judge has a grudge against Robert and he ends up losing his political career. In those days, there was no coming back from a scandal. Again, how things have changed.
But the title doesn’t quite tell the full story. The writer avoids going down the obvious route of Robert’s wife leaving him, which would been an easy way to show him being punished for his cheating. Instead she stands by him (again, the key scene of her finding out is oddly missing) and greets the news of the end of his career by pointing out the silver lining: he will get to see his family more. This is an oddly pointless film with little excitement and a miserable ending, but maybe it does have something important to say: count your blessings. Robert was lucky enough to be loved by a forgiving and supportive wife. The grass was definitely not greener on the other side. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Change Partners