Teckman Mystery, The (1954)

UK / 88 minutes / bw / Corona, British Lion Dir: Wendy Toye Pr: Josef Somlo Scr: Francis Durbridge, James Matthews Story: Francis Durbridge Cine: Jack Hildyard Cast: Margaret Leighton, John Justin, Meier Tzelniker, Michael Medwin, Roland Culver, George Coulouris, Jane Wenham, Duncan Lamont, Raymond Huntley, Harry Locke, Frances Rowe.

Successful thriller writer Philip Chance (Justin) is called from the South of France by his publisher, Maurice Miller (Huntley), who wants him to write the biography of a young test pilot, Martin Teckman (Medwin), who died during the test flight of an experimental warplane, the Walters–Armitage F109. On the plane to London Philip discovers that the passenger next to him is the dead pilot’s sister Helen (Leighton), and there’s a spark between them.

Teckman Mystery - 1 a chance meeting on the plane

It’s every author’s dream: the stunningly attractive person seated next to you on the plane happens to be reading one of your books . . .

Philip arrives home to find his flat has been ransacked. Unusually, the break-in is investigated not by a couple of beat officers but by a full-blown Scotland Yard inspector, Hilton (Lamont).

Although not much interested in writing the biography, Philip agrees at least to interview the man who worked closely with Martin at Walters–Armitage, Andrew Garvin (Coulouris). Garvin’s convinced the F109 didn’t break up in midair at all, as the official story has it, but was landed by Martin at some secret airfield and traded to the Commies. Philip’s antennae twitch . . . but then one John Rice (Tzelniker), supposedly the European representative of a US travel magazine, The New World, offers him a fat sum of money to spend the next six months in Berlin writing a series of articles about the city. Philip agrees, and tells Maurice to postpone the Teckman book.

Teckman Mystery - 2 the inevitable clinch

Philip (John Justin), Helen (Margaret Leighton) and the inevitable clinch.

That night he discovers Garvin murdered in his apartment. Once again Inspector Hilton investigates, this time in less friendly fashion. Even so, he allows Philip to depart for Berlin, where he’s to stay with one Rudolf Kesner. Yet Hilton also brings in his “colleague” Major Harris (Culver), clearly of the Secret Service. With Helen’s help, Hilton and Harris figure out that Philip has been sent straight into a Communist trap. Fetched back just before his flight’s departure, Philip realizes he’s had a lucky escape—thanks to Helen.

It’s becoming evident that Martin is indeed still alive. Philip is contacted by Ruth Wade (Wenham), a secretary at Walters–Armitage, who claims that she and Martin were secretly married just three weeks before Martin’s disappearance. And it’s also becoming clear that Philip’s meddling is earning him the enmity of a London-based subversive cell, and that Martin has been on the run these past few months not from the cops, as Philip had thought, but from the members of that cell. When Martin decides that his best option is to give himself up, his life becomes forfeit—as does the life of Philip, who has learned far more than is good for him . . .

Teckman Mystery - 3 at last Philip confronts the fugitive

At last, Philip (John Justin) confronts the fugitive Martin (Michael Medwin).

There are plenty further shenanigans, although most audiences will have figured out early on who the mysterious ringleader of the Commie cell is. The script does throw a few clumsy red herrings in our path in an attempt to make us suspect a different character: these might indeed make us do so if we hadn’t already guessed the truth; as we have guessed that truth, the attempted red herrings come across as just gauche oddities—puzzling us in the wrong sense of that word. And there are various places where the script seems not to hold water, as in one instance where the ringleader volunteers information to the cops that helps them join some dots despite its being in the ringleader’s interest to leave the cops in the dark. Although we eventually discover that Rice is not part of the cell but is sympathetic to its cause and is trying to horn in, we’re never given much of an explanation as to his motives for the attempt.

Teckman Mystery - 4 no! no! no! ... but Rice is doomed

“No! No! No!” . . . but John Rice (Meier Tzelniker) is doomed.

Direction and camerawork manage to be pleasing without being ostentatious: occasionally there are some expressionistic steep angles and evocative shadows, but for the most part this is played pretty straight. Justin seems rather puppyishly over-eager to please, putting a tad too much verve into his portrayal of the novelist, but Leighton, all angles and staccato, does well as the femme fatale who’s trying to convince everyone she’s a romantic heroine. Lamont superbly fills the shoes of the acerbic cop and there’s a nice supporting role from Wenham as the sincere young widow.

Durbridge was for a period of decades a dominant figure on the UK mystery scene so far as TV and radio audiences were concerned. His most famous creation was Paul Temple, who—rather like Philip Chance in this movie—was a crime novelist and detective. Temple starred in various radio series (in West Germany as well as the UK), an extended TV series, a German animated TV series, various novels and four movies, of which the last, PAUL TEMPLE RETURNS (1952), has some noir interest.

Teckman Mystery - 5 an abrupt farewell

Sometimes “au revoir” just doesn’t suffice.


2 thoughts on “Teckman Mystery, The (1954)

  1. Well John, this one sounds pleasing enough, without hitting any home runs. This is the very first I have heard of this particular film, but as always your writing, plot summary and analysis always engage supremely. Certainly at the very least Margaret Leighton is a reliable thespian.

    • It’s one of those that, if it comes on TCM or whatever, is worth your time, but it hardly merits going to the effort of tracking it down. Leighton, Lamont and Medwin are usually worth the entrance fee; I’m far less familiar with Justin, but he’s perfectly passable here.

      Thanks for the kind words!

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