Monday, October 5, 2015

Calling Paul Temple (1948)

Paul Temple first appeared in a BBC radio series written by Francis Durbridge in 1938. More radio series followed, as well as novels, a comic strip and in 1969 a successful BBC TV series. There were also four Paul Temple movies in the late 1940s, the second of these being Calling Paul Temple which appeared in 1948.

Anthony Hulme played Temple in the first movie, with John Bentley taking over the part for the last three films. Calling Paul Temple saw the first of two appearances by Dinah Sheridan as Temple’s wife Steve.

Paul Temple is a popular crime novelist but he finds time to solve real crimes as well, ably assisted by Steve.

This movie hits the ground running with a murder on a train. It’s the third murder committed by the mysterious Rex who always leaves a calling card of some sort at the crime scene. Sir Graham Forbes, Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard, is happy to have Temple’s help which he’s found in the past to be invaluable. 

He’s going to need all the help he can get - by the time we’re ten minutes into the film there’s been yet another murder.

There are plenty of clues and plenty of red herrings. And plenty of suspects. There’s Mr Davies of the Quick Boil Kettle Company, who happened to be in the next compartment of the train where one murder took place and who seems to keep popping up. There’s Dr Kohima (Abraham Sofaer), the eminent Egyptian psychiatrist who was treating several of the murder victims. There’s his secretary Mrs Trevellyan who seems to know more than she should. There’s Edward Lathom (Alan Wheatley), an old acquaintance of Temple’s who has something to hide. And there’s the missing witness, the enigmatic Lady in Grey. That’s not to mention several other characters who are not who they seem to be.

The plot is nicely convoluted but more importantly the pacing is extremely brisk. It’s all breathless excitement! There seems to be another murder always about to happen, and it usually does.

Director Maclean Rogers spent his career making low budget movies but while he’s not overly inspired he’s undoubtedly efficient. Surprisingly there’s quite a bit of actual location shooting with some very good use of creepy gothic friaries in Canterbury. Butcher’s Film Service specialised in low budget movies and potboilers like the Paul Temple movies were just the sort of thing the company was looking for.

John Bentley is breezily likeable as Paul Temple. Personally I think Francis Matthews, who played the role in the much latter BBC TV series, was a better Paul Temple but Bentley is fine. Dinah Sheridan gives a lively and engaging performance as Steve Temple. The supporting cast is perfectly adequate, with Abraham Sofaer being particularly good.

The world of Paul Temple is a glamorous world of night spots, expensive restaurants and fine clothes. Not that easy to achieve on a small budget but this film does it fairly well. In the Britain of 1948, with rationing still in force, glamour would certainly have been welcome to film audiences.

This is a murder mystery but in tone it’s closer to the thriller genre, with quite a few fight scenes and some narrow escapes from certain death. In fact it perhaps has more in common with the American style of B-thriller than with the classic English mystery.

 This movie was based on Francis Durbridge’s radio serial Paul Temple and the Canterbury Case.

Renown Pictures have issued all four Paul Temple movies in a four-disc DVD boxed set. They claim that the movies have been digitally restored. Given that they’re a budget label I was sceptical but the transfer of Calling Paul Temple is reasonably impressive.

If you’re a fan of the B-movies of this era then Calling Paul Temple should not disappoint. It also involves hypnotism, always a bonus in a B-movie. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended.

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