Another tangled tale from Edgar Wallace!
UK / 58 minutes / bw / Merton Park, Anglo-Amalgamated Dir: Alan Cooke Pr: Jack Greenwood Scr: Lindsay Galloway Story: Flat 2 (1927) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Bert Mason Cast: John Le Mesurier, Jack Watling, Bernard Archard, Barry Keegan, Ann Bell, Campbell Singer, Charles Lloyd Pack, David Bauer, Russell Waters, George Bishop, Gerald Sim, Andre Mikhelson, Monti de Lyle, Adrian Oker, Gordon Phillott, John Wilder.
I gave this movie basic coverage in A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir, but at the time I hadn’t seen it myself (although I had read the novel). Recently I was able to watch it as part of the UK-released EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERIES Vol 3 DVD set (thanks, Stan!), one of seven volumes containing the complete series of these UK B-movies, originally released during 1960–64.
Susan Martin (Bell) has been losing hand-over-fist at the gambling club owned by slimy Emil Louba (Bauer), and he tells her that her IOUs have now added up to a staggering £10,000, money she doesn’t have. He offers to throw the IOUs away, however, if she’ll go on holiday with him to the continent and become his mistress. Susan, although visibly nauseated by the prospect, doesn’t see that she has much choice.
When she breaks it to her architect fiancé Frank Leamington (Watling) that she’s not going to marry him after all, he soon gets the truth out of her and declares angrily that he’d happily kill Louba. More to the point, he schemes to steal the IOUs, which Susan happens to know Louba has taken back to his flat rather than left in the club.
Susan (Ann Bell) confesses all to Frank (Jack Watling).
Meanwhile, Louba has buttonholed a distinguished barrister named Warden (Le Mesurier) at the gentlemen’s club the two of them share to tell him that he’s received a threatening letter, and would like Warden to take a look at it. They make an appointment to meet at 9pm at Louba’s swanky flat (which is of course #2 in its block). Unknown to both of them is that Frank plans to break in that very night in hopes of finding the IOUs.
Warden (John Le Mesurier) hears about the threatening letter.
Another person planning to visit the flat, this time by appointment, is Charlie Berry (Keegan), a cracksman who knows Louba from years ago when they were both crooks together in Malta. Louba “ruined” a girl while there, and paid Charlie a pension to marry the girl so that he himself wouldn’t have to. Two years ago the unfortunate bride committed suicide, and Louba stopped paying the pension. It’s this that Berry wants to “discuss” with him and, as we soon learn, it was Berry who wrote that threatening letter. (So what could have possessed Louba to invite him round? No, I don’t know either.)
The block’s doorman, Miller (Lloyd Pack), proves to be an old pal of Berry’s; they’ve been rogues together, we infer. Berry arrives early and the two go out on Miller’s dinner break to the pub around the corner, and Berry tells his tale. Miller goes back on duty, only to find Warden wandering around, annoyed that Louba seems to have gone out, despite their appointment. Miller sees a chance, lends Berry the pass key, and tells him where Louba’s safe his: with his skills he ought to be able simply to steal the money he reckons Louba owes.
Berry gets the safe open just as Frank, having climbed up the fire escape, clambers in through the window. Berry hides while Frank explores the flat. There’s a clever piece of direction here. We see things as through Berry’s eyes when Frank goes into Louba’s bedroom. There’s a thump and an imprecation, and a few moments later Frank emerges, putting back on its stand a model cannon that’s obviously quite heavy—ideal for walloping someone on the head with, for example. We have no idea what happened behind that wall—until Frank reappears, the obvious assumption is that it was Frank who got thumped—and that ambiguity is what gives later stages of the movie more suspense than we’re accustomed to in movies from this series.
Berry (Barry Keegan) hears the thump from Louba’s bedroom.
Frank (Jack Watling) replaces the metal cannon.
Later, Detective-Inspector Trainer of the Yard (Archard) discusses with Brown (Campbell Singer) the cannon’s efficacy as a weapon.
Frank is arrested and charged by Detective-Inspector Trainer of the Yard (Archard), and during the period when he’s on trial for murder, with Warden acting for the defense, we really aren’t sure if he’s guilty or not . . .
Susan: “Oh, Mr. Brown, tell me honestly. What chance has Frank got?”
Brown: “Well, Warden is one the great defence lawyers of the generation. If it were anyone else, I’d say not much.”
One of the joys of the movies in this series is that watching them is like stepping into a time machine. In the same way that the Harry Potter movies seemed to give the entirety of the British acting profession, young and old, some welcome employment at one time or another, so did the Edgar Wallace Mysteries in their day: they’re full of familiar faces . . . assuming you’re, ahem, old enough that those faces are actually familiar. Aside from the actors mentioned above, here we have Campbell Singer as Scotland Yard’s Assistant Commissioner, Hurley Brown, an old friend and fellow club-member of Warden’s, who’s long been looking for a way to bring down Louba, and Gerald Sim as the doorman at Louba’s club; his character in this movie is a very long way from the Rector in the comedy series To the Manor Born (1979–81).
Warden (John Le Mesurier), Berry (Barry Keegan), Miller (Charles Lloyd Pack) and Brown (Campbell Singer).
I read Wallace’s source novel some years ago, and by the time I viewed the movie couldn’t remember anything about it beyond the title. As I watched, however, quite a lot of it came back to me in bits and pieces, although it was only when the murderer was finally accused that I recalled the plot’s linchpin. For most of the movie, in fact, I was thinking the adaptation was an extraordinarily loose one, and in a sense it is. The story’s the same but it has been quite significantly restructured for the screen version—and not to that version’s detriment.
This being one of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries, there’s the occasional piece of amicable male chauvinism. The example that I shall be quoting to my wife when I pluck up the nerve comes from Inspector Trainer, speaking to Frank: “It’s always the same with the ladies, sir—very suspicious minds.”