Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Fourth Square (1961)

The Fourth Square is one of the forty-seven low-budget British mystery thrillers based on the stories of Edgar Wallace and made at Merton Park Studios for Anglo-Amalgamated in late the 50s and the early 60s. Although they received theatrical releases in Britain in the US they were screened in edited form as the Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre. The Fourth Square was made in 1961.

Solicitor Bill Lawrence (Conrad Phillips) is asked by a wealthy woman to investigate the theft of a valuable item of jewellery. This is an odd request to make of a solicitor but he agrees to do so. Even odder is the fact that the lady claims to know who committed the theft.

Bill discovers that matters are a little more complicated than that. This was one of a series of similar robberies. There is definitely a connecting link but that link just seems to make the case more puzzling. 

The thief leaves little squares taped to the wall at the scenes of the robberies, hence the movie’s title.

Jewel robberies are one thing but Bill starts to feel a bit out of his depth when they lead to murder. He is however determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Most of Edgar Wallace’s novels are very much worth reading. This one may not have been one of his better efforts, or perhaps James Eastwood’s screenplay simply doesn’t do it justice. The mystery is not quite twisted enough and there aren’t enough hints of the bizarre to qualify this as a classic Wallace adaptation.

The acting is competent enough is not exactly sparkling. Conrad Phillips is an amiable enough hero and he doesn’t try to make Bill Lawrence overly heroic. He is after all just a very ordinary solicitor, with a certain streak of stubbornness, a fairly cool head and reasonable intelligence. Miriam Karlin has a certain amount of fun as French dancer and magician Josette.

Allan Davis had a very brief career as a director and doesn’t bring much inspiration to this film although he did quite well with a couple of the other movies in this series such as Clue of the New Pin and The Clue of the Twisted Candle. Of course there’s only so much you can do on a very low budget and these were very low budget features indeed.

The movie looks low budget but not excessively cheap. Of course there aren’t a great many sets and there are no spectacular action set-pieces. There aren’t even any unspectacular action set-pieces. 

Network DVD have done their usual decent job with the transfer. This is not a movie on which anybody is going to spend a fortune on a high definition restoration. Picture and sound quality are both fine. The Fourth Square is included in the first of Network’s Edgar Wallace boxed sets.

One thing you have to say for Network. At least they haven’t tried to sell these Edgar Wallace B-movies as film noir. Which is exactly what many other companies would have done. 

The Fourth Square is a cheap B-movie but with a running time of less than an hour it doesn’t have time to wear out its welcome. It’s a harmless and reasonably diverting time-killer. 

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