UK / 61 minutes / bw / Independent Artists, Anglo–Amalgamated Dir: Sidney Hayers Pr: Bernard Coote Scr: Peter Barnes Story: “A Toy for Jiffy” (1956; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine) by Roy Vickers Cine: Phil Grindrod Cast: Lyndon Brook, Jane Hylton, Jill Browne, John Paul, Rupert Davies, Moira Redmond, Bruce Seton, Martin Miller, Frederick Piper, Martin Boddey, Gerald Anderson, John Boxer, Leonard White.
London, soon after the end of WWII, and wastrel Douglas “Doug” Baines (Brook) is wary of the coppers on every corner because he’s an Army deserter. He makes his way as best he can, helping to support his mistress, Daisy Hacker (Hylton), and their infant son Jiffy on what we suspect are generally slim pickings. One day, though, he’s obviously flush because he spends 15/6 (15 shillings and sixpence)—a small fortune in those days—at the toyshop of Jenkins (Piper) on a cackling tumbler-doll clown for Jiffy, upon whom he obviously dotes; indeed, we sense that Doug is really defined by his love for Jiffy. When he gets home, though, it’s to discover that Daisy has sold the child into adoption for twenty pounds. She’s scathing in her estimation of Doug:
“Twenty pound. I suppose you’ll want your cut.”
“And another thing. You pretending to believe that I got all that money working as a waitress. You’ve got eyes in your head the same as other men. You know perfectly well where that money came from.”
Doug (Lyndon Brook) shows Daisy (Jane Hylton) the toy he’s bought for Jiffy.
As he tries to force out of her the name and address of the adoptive parents so he might try to buy Jiffy back, he inadvertently strangles her. His behavior then is interestingly portrayed. There’s no heartfelt anguish over the body of a loved one, no futile attempts to apologize to the corpse: instead he treats her prone body as the dead object that it is, something he must make sure not to trip over as he moves about the room. Having gotten rid of nosy neighbor Mr. Hendricks (Miller), he searches for the new parents’ address, finds and after some thought pockets the twenty quid, packs his bags—including the toy—and goes.
Sergeant Ranson (John Paul).
As he told Daisy before their fight, he’s obtained a job as manager of the garage run by Bert Glennon (Davies), who obviously likes him a lot—although now puzzled as to why Doug should have shaved off his distinctive mustache.
Five years later, Doug (Lyndon Brook) is a trusted colleague of his boss Bert Glennon (Rupert Davies).
We slide to five years later. Bert and his wife Katie (Redmond) have thrown a party to celebrate the establishment of Glennon Enterprises. Doug has done well by his boss, and Bert has decided to make him a full partner in the business. Their secretary, Janet Greenway (Browne), and Doug have become an item, and Doug takes this opportunity to propose to her. After she’s accepted, he recounts to her a very much expurgated version of why he has the toy and is so devoted to it; she tells him it’s time he gave up hopes of ever finding Jiffy and devoted himself to her and the children they’ll presumably one day have. As token of this, he gives her the toy for safekeeping.
She then flits off to visit her mum.
Doug (Lyndon Brook) shows girlfriend Janet Greenway (Jill Browne) the toy.
Doug lasts a few hours, then realizes he must lay hands on the toy. He goes to Janet’s apartment and plays with the toy for a few moments, little realizing he’s being watched from behind the door by a burglar (White) who was just about to ransack the flat when Doug arrived.
In Janet’s flat, Doug (Lyndon Brook) doesn’t realize he has company.
On Janet’s return she discovers the burglary. The cops, in the form of Detective-Sergeant Jarman (Boxer), are highly interested in the case because they can tell by the m.o. that this is the work of “Builder” Smith, wanted for a murder he committed in course of a robbery. Jarman realizes that Doug must have been in the apartment at the same time as the thief.
And this is where Doug’s luck runs out. Five years ago the Daisy Hacker case was investigated by Inspector Paul Davis (Seton) and his sergeant, Ranson (Paul); despite having gained a sketchy description of Doug from Jenkins and Hendricks, they were eventually ordered to abandon the investigation because there were more important ones to deal with. Ranson, who has by now become an inspector, takes an interest in the case, and . . .
Oddly, Ranson is the only person associated with the Daisy Hacker case to have a proper understanding of Doug. Daisy herself thought all Doug was concerned about in the wake of the adoption was to make sure he got his share of the £20. Inspector Davis thought Doug killed Daisy for the sake of that same £20. Ranson, however, realizes that it was through love of the child that Doug committed his crime of passion, and expresses genuine reluctance over the fact that he must take Doug in for it. Says Doug to Janet as Ranson leads him almost companionably away: “I can’t keep on running.” It’s as if he’s being not so much arrested by the cop as done a favor.
Janet (Jill Browne) watches Ranson (John Paul) escort Doug (Lyndon Brook) to his date with justice.
In Roy Vickers’s Department of Dead Ends stories, upon one of which this movie is based, there’s often this sense that the killer is not in essence a bad person, instead something of a victim of circumstances or their own weakness. The stories have the theme that the titular department solves cold cases through clues that at the time seemed ephemeral, such as Doug’s purchase of a toy for Jiffy.
This was the first directorial outing for Hayers, who would go on to be a stalwart of UK moviemaking and television; his outings of noirish interest include The White Trap (1959), The MALPAS MYSTERY (1960), PAYROLL (1961), REVENGE (1971), DEADLY STRANGERS (1974) and DIAGNOSIS: MURDER (1975; not the Dick Van Dyke effort). It was also the debut movie of Moira Redmond, whose greater glories would come on stage and especially television; here her role is little (just a few words) above a nonspeaking one. Hylton, who’s out of the way within scant minutes of the start despite her star billing, was another who’d later on make a bigger name for herself in television, although she built up a (slightly) more distinguished movie career first; she appeared in three of the EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERIES as well as noirish offerings like DEAR MURDERER (1947), The UPTURNED GLASS (1947), DAYBREAK (1948), MY BROTHER’S KEEPER (1948), BURNT EVIDENCE (1954), The WEAK AND THE WICKED (1954), NIGHT TRAIN FOR INVERNESS (1960) and YOU PAY YOUR MONEY (1967).
So far as later years were concerned, however, by far the biggest name in the cast would be Rupert Davies, mainly because of his protracted stint as the title character of the TV series MAIGRET (1960–63 UK; 52 episodes). He, too, had a number of other noirish outings, including The TRAITOR (1957), The CRIMINAL (1960), SAPPHIRE (1959) and especially The SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (1965). Here he seems to be trying to emulate Sid James in one of the latter’s non-comedy roles.
Clocking in at about an hour, this is a quiet, reflective item that, not too many years hence, would almost certainly have been made for the small screen—as an episode of one of those extended series of hour-long mystery/suspense television plays—rather than for the cinema. In a way, that might have been to its benefit in the long run, since it would likely have been better remembered today. Although the cheapness of the production is very evident and the aspirations are modest, this is by no means a negligible movie.