Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Five To One (1963)

Five To One is a 1963 entry in the cycle of Edgar Wallace crime B-thrillers made at Merton Park Studios in England.

This one is a heist movie. Not a spectacular heist movie (not on a low Merton Park budget), but a clever one. Larry Hart (Lee Montague) runs a betting shop. It’s a lucrative business and he does a bit of money laundering on the side. Alan Roper (John Thaw) makes an arrangement with him. Roper is going to pull off a robbery which will net sixty thousand pounds. Hart will give him twelve thousand pounds in clean money in exchange for the sixty thousand in hot money. That’s a five-to-one ratio which is the going rate, hence the film’s title.

Roper, his girlfriend Pat (Ingrid Hafner) and his pal John (Brian McDermott) are also operating a variant of the old badger game in which someone is set up for blackmail. In this case it’s a man who works for an insurance company. This man has very little money, but it’s not money that the blackmailers want.

These elements are the components of a single plan which Alan has cooked up. It’s an elaborate plan but something goes wrong. Alan decides that that’s no problem. He comes up with an even more elaborate variation on the original scheme, a variation which is based not just on meticulous preparation but also on psychology. The victim will set himself up to be robbed.

The police are investigating one crime, but it’s not the real crime. Which is part of Alan’s plan.

It’s a clever scheme but it’s extraordinarily over-complicated. Alan just assumes that because he’s so clever everything will naturally go according to plan. Of course we know that it won’t. What’s impressive about this movie is that the things that go wrong really do make sense, rather than just being plot devices. They’re the natural consequences of a plan that is too elaborate for its own good. There is one piece of bad luck but mostly the setbacks to Alan’s plan are things he should have anticipated.

Roger Marshall wrote the script. He want on to have a great career in television, most notably as the creator of the best-ever British private eye series, Public Eye. It’s no surprise that his script for Five To One is so well thought out and that it has some nice touches of irony.

Gordon Flemyng directed, and did a very fine job. He also spent most of his later career in television. In fact that’s true for most of the talented people involved with the Merton Park Edgar Wallace films. As the market for B-movies dried up they switched to television rather than making the move into big-budget feature films but an extraordinary of them were associated with the very best British television of the 60s and 70s. He directed another of the Wallace films, Solo for Sparrow.

John Thaw also had a very distinguished career in television, most famously as the star of The Sweeney. Remarkably he was just twenty-one when he made Five To One but you can still see glimpses of his future acting brilliance. He wasn’t there yet, but there are glimpses. The other cast members, as is the case for most of these Edgar Wallace movies, are very solid.

This movie is included in Network’s Edgar Wallace Mysteries volume five DVD boxed set. The anamorphic transfer is excellent (the movie is of course in black-and-white).

Five To One has a nifty plot and it’s generally a successful and very well-made crime thriller that doesn’t suffer at all from its low budget. There’s plenty of entertainment value here and this film is highly recommended.

Seriously, if you’re a fan of crime B-movies or of British crime films and you haven’t checked out the Merton Park Edgar Wallace films you should so. And the DVD sets are great value for money.


  1. Really need to go through these again. All I can remember about this one is that (a) it's good, and (b) did John Thaw ever look young?

    Agree that the box set - either the whole thing, or any one of the seven volumes, is AMAZING value for money.

    1. I think that buying these Edgar Wallace sets has been the most satisfying DVD investment I've ever made.