vt The Green Finger
UK / 84 minutes / bw / Butcher’s Dir & Pr: John Argyle Scr: John Argyle, Francis Durbridge Story: Send for Paul Temple (1938 radio play) by Francis Durbridge Cine: Geoffrey Faithfull Cast: Anthony Hulme, Joy Shelton, Tamara Desni, Jack Raine, Beatrice Varley, Hylton Allen, Maire O’Neill, Michael Golden, Richard Shayne, Edward V. Robson, Phil Ray, Leslie Weston, Olive Sloane, H. Victor Weske, Norman Pierce, Melville Crawford, Charles Wade.
A gang of jewelry robbers is terrorizing the English Midlands, and its members aren’t afraid to kill anyone who gets in the way. The only clue the cops have comes from the dying words of a night watchman: “The Green Finger.”
Bestselling mystery novelist Paul Temple (Hulme) is visited at his country home near Evesham by his old friend Chief Inspector Gerald Harvey (Crawford), but almost immediately Harvey is shot down in one of the local pubs, The Little General. The landlord, Horace Daley (Ray), insists the death must have been a suicide, and when the local physician, Dr. Milton (Allen), arrives he seems to agree. The only other person who might cast some light on the subject is the pub’s solitary resident guest, the middle-aged Miss Amelia Marchment (Varley). Her hobby, it emerges, is the history of old English inns, and she announces that The Little General is in fact a far more ancient inn than is generally realized . . . and that it was originally called The Green Finger!
The seemingly ingeuous Miss Marchment (the splendid Beatrice Varley) and the crooked publican Horace Daley (Phil Ray).
Steve Trent (Shelton), a journalist on one of the London newspapers, has been running a campaign along the lines that, since Scotland Yard is bamboozled by the gang, the cops should “send for Paul Temple”—although quite why the Yard should think a mystery novelist would be any use to them is never fully explained. She arrives on Temple’s doorstep; although she writes as Steve Trent, she is in fact Louise Harvey, sister of the dead man.
Steve (Joy Shelton), having just learned the truth about her brother.
She fills in a few details for Paul. Her brother was for a while stationed in South Africa, where the same gang for a while operated. He and his partner, Sidney Bellman, discovered the gang’s leader was one Max Lorraine, nicknamed The Knave of Hearts; the only other things known about this master-criminal were that he had a small scar above his right elbow, always smoked Russian cigarettes, and was besotted by a girl called Ludmilla. But then Bellman was murdered by the gang, the case collapsed, and Gerald came back to the UK.
By now we know that the publican, Daley, and the doctor, Milton, are members of the gang. We soon discover that the doctor’s pretty niece Diana Thornley (Desni)—at least, they claim she’s his niece—is also in cahoots, because she facilitates the gang’s next heist. This time a truck driven by an elderly man called Skid Tyler (Weston) goes out of control and ends up smashed through the front of a jewelry store. In the ensuing chaos the gang member Dixie (Golden) makes off with a heap of precious stones.
Bad girl Diana Thornley (Tamara Desni).
The Police Commissioner, Sir Graham Forbes (Raine), gives in to the inevitable and “sends for Paul Temple”—with the result that Paul and a much-recovered Steve are in Forbes’s office when Skid Tyler is brought in for questioning. Forbes offers Skid a drink, the way that police commissioners so often do when interviewing petty criminals; next we know, Skid’s clutching at his throat and keeling over from cyanide poisoning. Since Forbes has already offered Steve a smoke and she has discovered his penchant for Russian cigarettes . . .
Forget Paul Temple. In times of crisis the person you want to send for is the redoubtable Miss Marchment (Beatrice Varley).
There are plenty of revelations still to come, not least the solution to how the gang is getting the purloined stones out of the country without going through any of the established fences: they’re using carrier pigeons, that’s how. Like Steve, Miss Marchment proves to be other that whom she seems, and the same goes for one of Forbes’s two senior officers on the case, Inspector Merritt (Robson), and the extraordinarily plummy-voiced Chief Inspector Richard Norman Dale (Shayne). The action and most of the characters finally descend upon a derelict riverside pub called The First Penguin, where Paul sets a trap and The Knave of Hearts is finally unveiled.
This was the first of four big-screen outings for Durbridge’s hero Paul Temple; for the other three movies, all dir Maclean Rogers, the role of Paul was taken over by John Bentley, while Dinah Sheridan played Steve in outings #2 and #3, Patricia Dainton taking over for #4. The other three movies were:
- Calling Paul Temple (1948)
- Paul Temple’s Triumph (1950)
- PAUL TEMPLE RETURNS (1952; vt Bombay Waterfront)
The last of these is the only one with any real noirish interest and even then it’s not much; I nevertheless—in the interests of, y’know, comprehensiveness—covered it in A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir. Outside the movies, Temple—with his characteristic inoffensive oath, “By Timothy!”—was a phenomenon in other media, as I described in the encyclopedia:
Crime-solving mystery writer Paul Temple and journalist wife Steve were created by Francis Durbridge for the BBC radio serial Send for Paul Temple (1938). Further radio serials appeared frequently throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s; the BBC has revived the character for several more radio serials since 2006. A BBC TV series, Paul Temple (1969–71; 64 episodes), was largely coproduced with Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) and, dubbed, broadcast in WG by the latter. There were also a number of WG radio serials, a stack of novels by Durbridge (usually with anonymous “collaborators”) and, more recently, a successful WG animated TV series.
Send for Paul Temple is about as good as you’d expect for a Butcher’s production—which is to say, not very—but it does have some appealing aspects. Shelton is very personable as Steve and Desni alarmingly so as the femme fatale; there’s a good minor turn from Ray as the crooked publican. But the real honors among the supporting cast must go to Varley as the redoubtable Lady of a Certain Age, who’s unfazed by bloodshed and quite willing, once a gun has been put into her hand, to plug the bad guys should they attempt to cross her. Varley had a long career that included a number of UK noir and noirish movies, among them BEDELIA (1946), MY BROTHER’S KEEPER (1948), BANG! YOU’RE DEAD (1954; vt Game of Danger) and TIGER IN THE SMOKE (1956).
Paul (Anthony Hulme) tells Steve (Joy Shelton) of yet one more complication.
On Amazon.com: Send for Paul Temple [DVD]