Monday, January 25, 2016

Partners in Crime (1961)

Merton Park Studios in England was a small studio specialising in very low-budget B-pictures, mostly in the crime genre. In the early 60s they made a series of over forty Edgar Wallace adaptations. These were intended for theatrical release in Britain and were sold to American television where they were screened as The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre. Partners in Crime was a 1961 entry in the series, based on Wallace’s 1918 novel The Man Who Knew.

A wealthy soft drinks tycoon is murdered. It appears to be a burglary gone wrong although Inspector Mann (Bernard Lee) has his doubts. This is one of those movies that offers very little in the way of mystery. We know almost from the start who the murderer is and how the crime was committed. The interest (such as it is) comes from watching the police unravel the mystery. Essentially it’s a police procedural.

The deceased tycoon, Harold Strickland, had built up the business with his partner Frank Merril (John Van Eyssen). They had served together during the war. Strickland had been a sergeant-major and Merril had been his commanding officer. In business the roles had been reversed with Strickland becoming the company chairman and Merril being the junior partner. Strickland was married to the glamorous Freda (Moira Redmond), a woman much younger than himself.

The key to the solving of the crime is the murder weapon, a revolver, which finds itself into the hands of a couple of young tearaways on motorcycles. They’re low-grade juvenile delinquents and their idea of selling the revolver turns out to be a rather spectacularly bad idea.

There’s no mystery so the film has to rely on suspense, which it does with moderate success. The ending is quite well executed though.

The acting is quite solid. Bernard Lee could play a police inspector in his sleep but he’s as solid as always. Moira Redmond does the femme fatale bit quite well. Gordon Boyd (who later became a minor television celebrity in Australia) is quite competent as an Australian lorry driver caught up in the plot. The minor players are all perfectly adequate.

The low budget is no real problem. British B-movies of this era, no matter how cheap they might be, always manage to avoid looking shoddy.

Director Peter Duffell spent most of his career in television. He does a passable job but the movie fails to generate much excitement. Robert Stewart’s screenplay simply does not have enough plot to keep things interesting. It’s hard to believe this was based on an Edgar Wallace novel - I find it difficult to credit that Wallace would have written anything as uninteresting as this.

British B-pictures of this period are often very much better and very much more interesting than you might expect at first glance. This particular movie is one that, sadly, never manages to be anything more than routine. 

Network have done a superb job with the transfer. It’s widescreen and anamorphic and it looks marvellous. Network really do put in some effort with their releases. This movie is included in their Edgar Wallace Mysteries volume 1 DVD boxed set, a set that is well worth buying if you’re a fan of British crime B-movies. It includes movies like The Clue of the New Pin and The Clue of the Twisted Candle that are fine B-movies and well worth seeing. It also includes October Moth, an intriguing non-series movie that has no Edgar Wallace connection but is definitely worth viewing.

Partners in Crime is a competent by-the-numbers low-budget crime thriller. It’s not one of the better movies in this series but it’s a harmless time-killer.

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