The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Strangler’s Web

The Edgar Wallace MysteriesWe are really getting into the spirit of the 60s here, with some interesting dance techniques at a hip and happening discotheque. Playing the most 1960s of all possible characters is Pauline Boty, better known for her pop art and tragic death at the age of just 28, as the bubbly Nell Pretty. It would be Boty’s final performance. She is great fun here, particularly when driving like a lunatic.

There is actually quite a lot of comedy in this one, including technical difficulties at the police station, which is an unusual approach for the Edgar Wallace Mysteries B movies, but it is an effective counterbalance to the dark tone of the subject matter, with a former showgirl strangled on Hampstead Heath, and both her lover (well, the one of her lovers with whom she lives) and his defence solicitor drunken wife-beaters. This has rarely been a series that makes it easy to admire the protagonists, and perhaps the overriding message of the whole series is that humans are flawed, and it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.

John Stratton plays Lewis Preston, the latest in a long line of non-police doing the investigating for these films, although this solicitor is at least working amicably and productively with the law, and we have an actual detective taking a role in proceedings as well, relatively unusual for the later entries in the series, which tend to stay on the wrong side of the law in terms of the events we are shown. I thought at first that Preston’s alcoholism, domestic violence and abandonment by his wife was going to play into his defence of suspected murderer and fellow violent alcoholic John Vichelski (an excellent performance from Michael Balfour) in some way, but in the end it didn’t really make much difference to anything, with Preston instead remarkably turning into a brilliant and entirely sober amateur detective immediately after the altercation with his wife. The happy ending for him is a nice little coda moment, but comes out of nowhere and seems a bit simplistic in its sentimentality, and uncomfortable in its message of a victim returning to her abuser and all being well.

The central mystery is a good one, with the victim’s other lovers needing to be investigated, and Preston uncovering a blackmail plot, and virtually a queue of men wanting to kill her. The solicitor’s investigations lead him to the home of a scarred recluse who used to be a big star, living with his rather odd and grumpy niece. There is of course more going on with those two than meets the eye. Pauline Munro is superb as Melanie Anderson, playing her with a steely glint in her eye and an almost inhuman smile on her face at an inappropriate moment. Letting the side down a bit (although his performance seems to have provoked positive reactions elsewhere) is Griffith Jones as the reclusive Jackson Delacorte, whose line delivery is stilted and lifeless, with his one burst of emotion not really flowing naturally from the dynamics of the scene.

This is another tightly shot and directed 50 minutes of effective drama. It clearly wasn’t made to make the viewers feel comfortable. For example, a scene of domestic violence is shot from the POV of the attacker, and is later shown again from the POV of a prowling would-be murderer outside the window. But this is high quality and challenging drama. Surprisingly, this excellent series, which seems to be firing on all cylinders, would come to an end with just one more entry.   RP

Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Dead Man’s Chest

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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