This seems to be one of the most popular Edgar Wallace Mysteries B movies, and it’s not difficult to see why. The acting is superb, and the plot is gripping from beginning to end. It’s not my cup of tea in particular, but I prefer films where there is at least one character we can like as a person, even if it’s just a loveable rogue on the wrong side of the law, but here we have a whole bunch of nasty wrongdoers, so instead we have to derive our pleasure from being swept along on the wave of one bad thing leading to another.
That’s very much the theme here. An affair leads to murder. Murder leads to blackmail. Blackmail leads to another murder, which in turn leads to more blackmail, and it’s a never-ending downward spiral until the closing minutes, when a murderer tries to come clean about his crimes and end his life, while a blackmailer finally follows her conscience and reports the murders to the police.
The other major theme is that of strong-willed woman pushing the men in their lives to do bad things, and then suffering the consequences. At times this can seem like a troublingly woman-hating series of films, and this is one of the most stark examples, although at least it offered a couple of significant roles for talented female actresses to sink their teeth into, which is far from always being the case.
Anna (Zena Walker) is having an affair with Ricky (Basil Henson) and persuades him to be complicit in the murder of their spouses so they can be together and gain financial control of the company the two men run as partners. Anna does the deed herself, and is untroubled by conscience. Eventually she does persuade Ricky to commit murder all by himself, and the only time in the film she looks as if she is really afraid of what she has done is when he phones her after murdering two people, and says “I almost enjoyed it.” Evil deeds change a person, fundamentally, and we see that change in Ricky over the course of the film.
The other strong woman pushing the man in her life to do bad things is Jean (Pamela Ann Davy), who tries to get her boyfriend Joe (Kenneth Cope) to steal for her. She’s very much the cheerleader for his criminal activities, but she gets more than she bargained for when his blackmail attempts seal his fate, as they nearly always do in crime dramas. In the previous film in the series a blackmailer lived to tell the tale, albeit behind bars, but that’s hugely atypical. Normally blackmail is the shortest ever career choice. Bizarrely, having seen her boyfriend killed as the result of blackmail, she follows his lead, although she is half-hearted and really wants revenge instead. She just doesn’t quite know how to go about achieving that.
Another interesting comparison can be made between Anna and Joe, two criminal minds from very different walks of life. She is much more of a schemer, while he is an opportunist, and his lack of self-control proves to be his undoing much quicker than Anna’s almost inhumanly cold and calculating approach to getting what she wants.
In the end, this is a grim tale. It’s not one that’s going to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling if you watch it. Justice is done in the end, and that’s important, but there’s not much joy in seeing murderers get their comeuppance, in a drama that lacks a significant detective character and therefore does not provide us with that thrill of the chase or battle of wits between a legal mind and a criminal one. There is nobody to root for here, and the hollow satisfaction of seeing the morally corrupt reap what they sow does not make for happy viewing. In terms of the side of human nature this shows us, it leans a little too much towards film noir for my tastes. If you are a fan of that approach, you will find this a competent effort with some excellent performances. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Strangler’s Web