Among his early crime films Tiger by the Tail (1954), Deadly Nightshade (1953), No Trace (1950) and The Embezzler (1954) are worth seeing.
The Voice of Merrill was made by Tempean Films, the production company set up by Robert S. Baker and Monte Berman. They would go on to huge success in television as producers of The Saint.
The Voice of Merrill opens with a murder. We don’t know the identity of the victim or why she’s been murdered. The scene then switches to a restaurant where not very successful crime writer Hugh Allen is waiting for his date. She doesn’t show up, and she never will. His date was a Miss Bridges and she’s the murder victim.
Alycia is married to Jonathan Roach (James Robertson Justice), who modestly describes himself as one of Field Marshals of British Literature. The marriage does not appear to be particularly affectionate.
Hugh Allen, Ronald Parker and Jonathan Roach were all acquainted with Miss Bridges and not one of them has an alibi for the time of the murder. This interests Inspector Thornton (Garry Marsh). What also interests Inspector Thornton is the fact that mIss Bridges was a convicted blackmailer. He can smell a motive there.
The radio series is an enormous success and the press turns the author, Hugh Merrill, into a celebrity. Of course there’s no such person as Hugh Merrill. Alycia meanwhile is hatching a plan. Her husband is dying from a heart condition. He can’t last more than three months. Provided Jonathan does the right thing and dies when he’s supposed to Hugh will be able to take the credit for the stories. This will be just what he needs to kickstart his literary career.
And murder is still there, lingering in the background. Inspector Thornton still has work to do.
Gilling’s screenplay provides a series of fiendish and nasty twists and the nastiness of the twists is enhanced by the fact that the characters have no idea what lies in store for them.
The fine cast helps things along. Edward Underdown is very good as Hugh, a man who is increasingly being swept along by events which he doesn’t understand.
Valerie Hobson is, as usual, a fine leading lady. Alycia is clever but she may not be clever enough and Hobson manages to make her sympathetic. We don’t approve of her actions but she herself feels that they’re justified.
This movie is included in the Renown Pictures Crime Collection Volume 4 DVD boxed set. The transfer is acceptable.
The Voice of Merrill doesn’t fit neatly into genre boundaries. It’s both a mystery and a twisted romantic melodrama and while the melodrama predominates there’s always the sense that murder is casting a shadow over the characters.
This is an oddball movie but a very very good one. It breaks genre rules but it gets away with it. Highly recommended.