Mystery Junction (1951)

UK / 61 minutes / bw / Merton Park, Anglo-Amalgamated Dir & Scr: Michael McCarthy Pr: William H. Williams Cine: Robert LaPresle Cast: Sydney Tafler, Barbara Murray, Pat Owens (i.e., Patricia Owens), Martin Benson, Christine Silver, David Davies, Charles Irwin, Philip Dale, Pearl Cameron, John Salew, Ewen Solon, Denis Webb, Cyril Smith, Sydney Monckton, Stanley Rose.

Mystery Junction - 0 opener

Every now and then the UK’s cheapie studio Merton Park could produce a gem, and this is arguably one of them. Mystery Junction may not be a diamond or an opal, but at the very least it’s a fine piece of costume jewelry. In Sydney Tafler, Barbara Murray, Ewen Solon, Patricia Owens, Martin Benson and others it had the kind of cast that most B-movies could only dream of.

Snowy, snowy weather. Elderly spinster Miss Jessica Owens (Silver) is on the train from Pickering to Stanton and points beyond when she realizes that the man sharing her compartment is none other than Larry Gordon (Tafler), author of the thriller to which she has been glued ever since the train left Pickering two hours ago. Of course, he signs her book for her and, with that distinctive smile that authors produce when (a) the good news is that they’re being fawned on and (b) the bad news is that this is likely to be tiresome, he starts answering a few of her questions along the lines of “Where do you get your ideas from?”

Mystery Junction - 1 Larry and Miss Owens

Larry (Sydney Tafler) and Miss Owens (Christine Silver) undertake some detecting.

But just then there’s a scream from outside the window. Dogged by Miss Owens, Larry goes to investigate. They find that, at the end of the carriage, there’s snow on the floor, which obviously suggests to Larry that the scream came from someone who was thrown out the door. The pair check the other compartments in the carriage, get mixed receptions from their occupants, and discover that one of the compartments is marked “Reserved” and locked; even more startling, an occupant of that compartment waves a gun at them through the door’s glass.

Trying to find the guard, the pair discover two stowaway thespians in the luggage van: Pat Dawn (Murray) and Mabel “Mabs” Dawn (Owens), to give them their stage names—even though not actually siblings, they do a “sisters act.” They also find the unconscious form of the train’s ticket collector (Monckton), beaten over the head and missing his uniform jacket. At this stage everyone agrees it’s time to challenge the guy with the gun.

Mystery Junction - 2 Miss Owens, Larry, Mabel, Pat

Miss Owens (Christine Silver, left) makes it plain to Larry (Sydney Tafler) that she doesn’t think too highly of Mabel (Pat Owens, brunette) and Pat (Barbara Murray).

That guy proves to be an armed cop, Detective-Sergeant Peterson (Solon), who has been charged with escorting a suspect, Steve Harding (Benson), to his murder trial in Stanton. Discovering that his backup, Detective-Constable Blake, has gone missing, Peterson rapidly surmises that the unfortunate fellow was hurled from the train by someone disguised as a ticket collector. Accordingly, at the next junction he herds all the passengers of the relevant carriage off to spend the night in the station waiting room, hoping he can summon an army of cops to take Harding to trial and discover who did for Blake.

Innocent and guilty, the passengers/suspects huddle in the chilly waiting room. As in any Agatha Christie novel, there are quite a few of them (in addition to Peterson and Larry):

  • Pat (real surname Graham) and Mabs Dawn, whom we’ve already met
  • Harding, likewise
  • Miss Owens, likewise
  • Bert Benson (Davies), a giant of a man who purports to be an engineer, who was sharing a compartment with
  • Edward Hooker (Irwin), a seedy-seeming businessman, who declares himself to be a broker
  • Elliot Foster (Dale), a somewhat anonymous figure to whom Mabs soon takes a shine, after having dithered over the notion that Bert Benson might be, well, giant all over
  • Mrs. Helen Mason (Cameron), who declares herself to be a model en route to a holiday in Scotland; she was sharing a compartment with Foster, who was going merely to Stanton

With the snowstorm howling outside, this ill matched bunch prepare to wait it out. But then a mysterious figure in the blizzard turns off the gas supply, the lights go out, there are shots and, moments later, it’s discovered that Peterson is dead and Harding now has his gun.

Mystery Junction - 3 Peyerson and Harding

Detective-Sergeant Peterson (Ewen Solon) and his prisoner, Harding (Martin Benson).

Was the shooter’s target Peterson or Harding? It soon becomes obvious that some of the passengers are past confederates of Harding who might want to break him free; at the same time, are any of them in fact in the pay of his old rival/ally Stanley Mason, who killed the woman for whose murder Harding is to go on trial?

Mystery Junction - 4 Elliot and Mabel

Elliot (Philip Dale) and Mabel (Pat Owens) soon take a shine to each other.

Harding starts off with the assumption that the killing of Peterson was part of an effort to free him. Yet Larry soon persuades him this isn’t the truth: if Harding wants to walk away from this he needs to find out who the real killer is. And who better to consult than a mystery writer, namely one Larry Gordon . . .?

Of course, this is all a whimsy. As any cop will tell you, mystery writers are even worse than psychic detectives at solving cases. Even so, the tale is presented with sufficient panache that everything seems to make sense at the time. There are all sorts of twists and turns along the way, most of them to do with the fact that quite a few of the supposedly disinterested passengers have in fact interacted with Harding in the past, and thus have a motive to kill him. The final twist in the narrative is quite beautifully done; it’s one of those twists that you might normally roll your eyes at, but here it’s so sweetly executed, not just in itself but also in the aftermath, that all you can really do is grin in appreciation.

Mystery Junction - 5 Helen

Helen (Pearl Cameron) catches the eyes of the male cast.

Tafler and Solon were among the better screen actors the UK knew in this era; it’s probably due to the low esteem in which UK movies were held at the time in the US that both never achieved international recognition and have been largely forgotten. Tafler is quite splendid as the novelist made good but also the guy who really hasn’t quite forgotten his humble roots. Silver is lots of fun as the starchy spinster who eventually admits to the Dawn “sisters” that her earlier judgement of them as total trollops was completely unjustified, in that they’ve offered her nothing but kindness.

The direction’s no more than perfectly adequate (complete with a poorly staged punchup) and the cinematography is hardly inspired—except for some of the snowscape shots. Yet Mystery Junction really is worth your hour, despite showing its age on occasion—as when Larry remarks, with not a whisper of contradiction from the rest, “Foster and I could try to reach the village. [But] that leaves one man and three defenseless women for Harding’s gang.”

Mystery Junction - 6 Larry and Pat

After the punchup, Larry (Sydney Tafler) has his injuries tenderly tended by Pat (Barbara Murray).

There’s an oddment. Of the two (very) pretty stage “sisters,” one is called Pat while the other is played by an actress called Pat; similarly, while there’s an actor called Benson who plays a character called Harding, there’s an actor called Davies who plays a character called Benson! Life must sometimes have gotten very confusing on set.

Mystery Junction - closer

31 thoughts on “Mystery Junction (1951)

        • Yes, but a long time ago — I’d forgotten all about it. I’ve just had to look the movie up in my own book to remind myself that, yes, indeed I’ve seen it. Unlike me to have forgotten an Yvonne Mitchell performance.

            • Have you tried Yield to the Night (1956)? That has Yvonne Mitchell in it too, come to think of it. She gives a brilliant performance supporting an arguably even more brilliant one from Diana Dors.

              Because of the latter’s presence, the US distributors moronically retitled the movie Blonde Sinner, which meant it basically went ignored in this country. In the UK, it was significant enough that it’s credited with having contributed to the abolition of the death penalty a decade or so later.

                    • I’ve just come across another ace UK noir, one that (alas) I missed for the book: Third Time Lucky (1949), with Glynis Johns smoking as a kind of anti-femme fatale and Dermot Walsh giving the first non-bland performance I’ve seen from him.

                      It’s odd. Since the book was published I’ve become aware of various non-Anglophone movies I should have caught (although in my own defense I should say that no one else in the US/UK has caught them either) plus at most a handful of US/UK movies I missed. And now I’ve watched two in two days! The other, watched yesterday, was the US movie Blues in the Night (1941), which slipped by me because it’s always classified as a musical. What makes me annoyed with myself is that Tony D’Ambra picked it up as a noir on his excellent site as long ago as 2009 and it still slipped through my net!

                      When I was working with John Clute in the 1990s on The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, John pointed out to me and eventually in the book’s intro that the first edition of any encyclopedia should be considered as a draft. It took me a while to realize the full impact — and truth — of the remark, but I certainly did when I was working on A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: I was going places where other noir encyclopedists hadn’t gone, so of course I was bound to screw up sometimes.

                    • I’m sorry to know it cost you a lot. In another non-blog life, I’m an academic with a couple of books that haven’t made much moolah, but they didn’t cost me much.

  1. My kind of film that does absolutely size up to a Christie kind of story. Your unfailingly manage to find something outside my radar, and as always have written a hugely authoritative and engaging review John.

    • It’s reminiscent in style of the Hitchcock of movies like The Lady Vanishes, although the lack of budget shows. It looks as if the best way of getting to watch it is to hope it turns up on telly, although I could lend you my copy if you’d like.

  2. Pingback: The Walk, Comic Con Convention and Final Days of Greatest Childhood/Adolescent Films Countdown on Monday Morning Diary (October 12) | Wonders in the Dark

    • I’ve got to the stage with Tafler that, if I notice he’s in a movie, I watch it. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen SCARLET THREAD (1951), in which he stars with a young Laurence Harvey. Tafler’s great as usual, Harvey’s pretty bloody awful, and yet look who became the major star.

  3. As I was reading, I was dying to know… Are you often stopped/interrupted on trains, asking where you get your ideas? 😉

    This sounds like worthwhile. I love movies about mystery writers who solve crimes.

    • I’ve only once seen someone reading one of my books on a train (more accurately, the London Tube) and they didn’t know who I was. But I was insufferable for days afterwards. My poor wife and daughter.

      This one’s definitely a fun movie — of no importance: just fun.

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