vt Murder on the Campus
UK / 60 minutes / bw / Border, New Realm Dir & Scr: Michael Winner Pr: Negus Fancey Cine: Richard Bayley Cast: Terence Longden (i.e., Terence Longdon), Donald Gray, Dermot Walsh, Robertson Hare, Diane Clare, Felicity Young, Edwin Styles, Douglas Muir, Jill Hyem, Max Faulkner, Tony Thawnton, Laura Thurlow, Geoffrey Ryan, Ann Sharp, Harold Siddons, Mark Eden, William Ingham, Bill Mitchell.
The third feature movie of Michael Winner’s long and highly prolific directorial career, this potboiler rarely rises above the mediocre. Its opening credits even manage to misspell the name of its leading man (Longden for Longdon); in fact, there isn’t a proper cast list.* The best one can say of the movie is that it reads rather like one of Merton Park’s lesser and more hurried offerings (in fact, it was made at Marylebone Studios); however, like the Merton Park pieces, it somehow manages—despite its stodgy directing and often very flat, uninspired acting—to be quite pleasing to watch.
Journalist Mark Kingston (Longdon) was out of the country when, two weeks ago, his younger brother Tony (uncredited), an undergraduate at the fictional Leicester College, Cambridge, fell from his high rooms in the college into the river Cam, and died. The coroner returned an open verdict; the cops believe it was either accident or suicide, and have closed their investigation. Of course, Mark doesn’t believe one word of that, so as soon as he’s checked in with his boss, Jimmy (Siddons), at the news agency, he heads for Cambridge, booking a room at the Regent Hotel and making a general pest of himself.
Tony Kingston (uncredited) interrupts the killer (Douglas Muir).
A couple of the students at the college tell Mark they did see a man walking on the roof the night that Tony died. Mark learns this when one of them, Joy Clarke (Hyem), calls by his hotel to fix up an appointment between him and her boyfriend, Jonathan (uncredited, but possibly Eden); Jonathan, currently stuck in exams, will meet Mark by the Old Bridge at 8am on the morrow.
Joy Clarke (Jill Hyem) tells her tale.
Before then, Mark must go out on a date with Jill (Young), the pretty waitress at the Copper Kettle tea shop. In truth, he’d assumed they were going to meet so she could give him more information about Tony. She, by contrast, expects dinner and drinks and, afterwards, amorous frolics back at her place; he rebuffs her with some difficulty. Another person Mark met at the tea shop was a US research professor, Henry Taylor (Walsh), in Cambridge to rootle among medieval manuscripts.
Jill (Felicity Young) points at her bed as the next good place to be.
The next morning Mark is on his way to the Old Bridge when he sees a corpse being loaded into an ambulance. The youth Jonathan has been killed by falling masonry while waiting for him. This time the cops—in the shape of the one-armed Detective Inspector Wills (Gray) and his sidekick, Sergeant Willoughby (Styles)—are less certain the death could be an accident. They’re also investigating the death of a local resident, Professor Richard Johnson, whose drowned body has just been recovered from the river. He disappeared the same night that Tony died. Overall, although they still regard Mark as a meddling nuisance, Wills is becoming a tad more charitably disposed toward him.
When Mark (Terence Longdon) tries to ingratiate himself with Mary (Diane Clare), she initially tells him to go away.
Mark realizes that he and Professor Johnson’s foster-daughter, Mary (Clare), should start working in tandem; she resists the idea at first, but is eventually won over. She tells him she was a Blitz orphan and that the dead man, an American living in the UK, adopted her after the death in action during WWII of his own son Robert/Bob. Mark asks his old buddy Harry Grieg (Mitchell), currently based at the US military camp just outside Cambridge, to find out what he can about Bob Johnson. Harry soon discovers that Bob was one of a gang of thieves from the Cambridge-based US forces who made a practice of robbing the stately homes of the neighborhood when their occupants were away. To add interest to this information, Professor Johnson ran an antiques shop in town, although he sold it years ago, just after the war, to a man named Gerber (uncredited). Mark and Harry visit the shop to find a very shifty Gerber and, on open sale, a candlestick adorned with the arms of local dignitary Lord Robson.
Mark (Terence Longdon) in the cop shop with Sergeant Willoughby (Edwin Styles, center) and Detective Inspector Wills (Donald Gray, right).
Let’s stand back for a moment to watch our hitherto-suspended disbelief come crashing to the ground. Would a crooked antiques dealer really have Lord Robson’s candlestick on open sale? The chances of someone spotting it as stolen goods would surely be high—Mark and Harry do so immediately. Besides, Lord Robson lives locally so might even himself walk in and recognize his own damned candlestick!
When Jill phones Mark with a garbled message that she’d never have told the bad guys about his appointment with Jonathan had she known they were going to murder the student, the phonecall being abruptly cut off amid screams, it’s clear that things are moving toward a head. Mark and Wills hurry to the waitress’s rooming house and find she’s been murdered. Mark is beginning to understand that the present-day deaths must be linked to the crimes of Bob Johnson and his gang during the war . . .
In the later stages of the movie, things become far more ingenious, as if Winner himself grew tired of turning out something so humdrum. There’s a great piece of theater when Mark comes home to his hotel room one night to find a figure wearing a grotesque mask pointing a gun at him; the spectacle is so unexpected after the pedestrian events so far in the movie that it’d be a strong-nerved viewer indeed who didn’t jump a foot. Soon after, we’re led to believe that the masked figure must certainly have been Ronald Fortescue (Hare, playing the same part Hare always did), a nosy little fusspot who organizes local tours for foreign visitors. Fortescue’s guilt seems beyond certain when he gives Mark an apparently drugged drink and we see that grotesque mask on his office seat. It’s all clever misdirection on Winner’s part, though—and only the most extreme of several other pieces of adroit misdirection. When the bad guys are finally snaffled they turn out to be more or less exactly who we thought they’d be, early on; in the interim, though, we’ve been led into suspecting all sorts of other folk who’ve proven perfectly (well, relatively) innocent.
The masked apparition.
This was Donald Gray’s last movie. He thereafter concentrated on TV work, including the leading role of Mark Saber in the longrunning series The Vise (1954–61) and the voicing of Colonel White, Captain Black and others in the cartoon show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967–8). His big movie break came in Search for Beauty (1934).
Mark (Terence Longdon) faces the final showdown in a derelict wing of the college.
* The BFI, IMDB and TCM have identified seven of the cast and their roles (including Muir as the killer); those seem to be the (to date) most complete lists on the intertubes. The opening credits list a further ten actors, but not their roles. Through some amateur detective work of my own, I’ve put roles to six of these actors. Through merely watching the movie I’ve been able to add some character names that those two sources don’t have (e.g., that the amorous waitress is called Jill). Aside from the identifications in the text above, we have:
- Tony Thawnton as Tony Kingston’s tutor
- Ann Sharp as Jill’s landlady
I’ve opted for the spelling “Grieg” for Harry’s surname; it could of course be “Gregg.” If anyone has access to further information in this context, I’d be very grateful to hear from them.
On Amazon.com:: Murder On The Campus/Out of the Shadow (VHS)