Edgar Wallace Mysteries (1960–65)

Between September 1960 and October 1965 cinemas in the UK screened 47 films produced by Anglo Amalgamated as part of their Edgar Wallace Mysteries series. These low-budget movies, more or less based on the works of the celebrated mystery author, were, with one exception, produced at Merton Park Studios by Jack Greenwood. They featured solid character actors like Finlay Currie and Bernard Lee (M in the 60s and 70s Bond movies) and such lovely leading ladies as Hazel Court and Moira Redmond as well as emerging young talent like Michael Caine, John Thaw and Harry H. Corbett. And now they are finally being made available on DVD …

The following overview of the series is offered as part of the Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog and you should head over there to see the many other fascinating titles that have been selected.

These films were made as dual-purpose product, to fit both on the second half of a cinema double bill, but also for potential sale to television overseas. In America they were shown as part of Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre / Hour but with other films thrown in that were not strictly speaking part of the series. All but one of the films of the series proper – the exception being The Malpas Mystery (1960), which was farmed out to Independent Artists and produced by Julian Wintle and Leslie Parkyn at Beaconsfield Studios – were made at the small Merton Park studios in London (and on location very nearby). On the other hand, a number of other titles were added, creating confusion about the correct titles within the series. For example, Crossroads to Crime (1960), directed by later Thunderbirds and Supermarionation supremo Gerry Anderson, is often included in the syndication packages but was an otherwise unrelated release given the Wallace imprimatur purely to help with sales. This was also true of Urge to Kill, a largely unremarkable story of a mad killer on the loose, made by veteran filmmaker Vernon Sewell.

Shot in black and white and made on tight schedules, these lively crime movies updated the Edwardian era stories but also overhauled the narratives to the extent that some of the screenplays were in fact original stories with nothing to do with Wallace. Apart from the Wallace name and the title sequence (and even that was dropped by the end), which as we see was occasionally added to unrelated material anyway for sales purposes, the films were mostly one-offs though thematically they have much to tie them together. Indeed, despite cosmetic attempts to reflect early 1960s culture, the social and political attitudes they reflect remained doggedly pre-war with foreigners for instance nearly always untrustworthy if not outright villainous (and that includes Australians). For budgetary reasons they are nearly all set in London and very neart to the studios themselves, though a few did manage to travel a little further afield as in the case of The Man at the Carlton Tower (1961). The closest thing they had to regular characters were a pair of Scotland Yard detectives played by Bernard Lee and Stanley Morgan, who appeared together in the series’ first release, Clue of the Twisted Candle (1960), respectively as Superintendent Meredith and Sergeant Anson and then paired again in Clue of the Silver Key (1961) and The Share Out (1962). However, in Partners In Crime (1961) they played the same characters, but were renamed ‘Inspector Mann’ and (obviously John Ford fans at Merton Park), ‘Sergeant Rutledge’. Morgan appeared in other roles at Merton Park while Lee returned to Superintendent Meredith without his sergeant in Who was Maddox?

The stories are quite varied, from whodunits to forensic procedurals and thrillers encompassing jewel heists, horse race fixing, blackmail, jailbreaks, banknote forgery and other sundry crimes. Even the titles featuring Lee and Morgan can offer quite varied approaches to similar subject matter: Clue of the Twisted Candle (1960) for instance is a fairly complex locked room mystery while Partners In Crime (1961) is a rather plodding story, also focusing on business partners falling out, which then unexpectedly leads to a shootout in a scrapyard with the villains dying in a spectacular truck explosion. Not surprisingly, given the low budgets and short shooting schedules, many of the contributors came from, or were on their way to, television. Directors included such subsequently well-known small-screen practitioners as John Llewellyn Moxey and Gerard Glaister (later producer of such BBC hits as Colditz, Secret Army and Howard’s Way) as well as filmmakers on their way up the theatrical ladder like Clive Donner and Alan Bridges.

Among the most prolific of the writers for the series were such TV writer-producers as Roger Marshall and Richard Harris, while the best known were Philip Mackie (author of the splendid 1970s version of Raffles starring Anthony Valentine as well as the classic TV version of Quentin Crisp’s biography, The Naked Civil Servant) and Robert Banks Stewart, today best known for creating such BBC hits as Shoestring and Bergerac (incidentally, despite what t says in IMDb, because at this time in his career he was usually credited without his middle name, he is the same person credited simply as ‘Robert Stewart’). As the series wound down a few original screenplays were passed off as adaptations but some of the later entries are also the ones with the best reputation, especially Face of a Stranger (1964) written by Hammer stalwart Jimmy Sangster, directed with panache by the up-and-coming John Llewellyn Moxey and starring Jeremy Kemp, Jean Marsh and series regular (in various roles) Bernard Archard.

It is instructive to note that the popularity of the series seems to have come hand-in-hand with a revival of interest in Wallace’s work since at exactly the same time that Anglo-Amalgamated bought the right to some 90 Wallace properties, the Rialto studios in Germany started making their own very distinctive, if often frankly perverse, adaptations starring the likes of Klaus Kinski. The British films offered more straightforward entertainment, taken from some of the lesser-known books and stories, while the Rialto films had rights to some of the best known of the author’s thrillers and then proceeded to do very strange things to them. Anyone interested in these should take a look at the Krimi Corner website at, www.latarnia.com/krimi.htm.

After the series’ successful run in the cinemas, the films eventually started turning up on TV and given the kinds of people working on them, both in front and behind the camera, and the hour-long running times, it’s easy to see why people often remember these more as TV episodes rather than cinema films. At the time though they were considered pretty good box office and were among the most successful of the films of their type being made in Britain. Brian McFarlane and Steve Chibnall in their book The British ‘B’ Film (BFI Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) referred to them as,

“… the most substantial, and probably the most successful, of all, and even constituted a primary attraction for some cinemagoers … [Face of a Stranger (1964)] ranks among the finest of British Bs.”

The cinema/TV confusion persists and may even be perpetuated by the fact that the Wallace series also spawned a popular theme tune in the shape of ‘Man of Mystery’ by Michael Carr and played over a darkly lit revolving bust of Wallace. Initially arranged for flute and later for guitar, the theme was later turned into a hit by the Shadows, reaching number 5 in the UK charts.

Once a TV staple, this series of films have never been made officially available on DVD – until now. Network DVD and Studio Canal (who now owns the Anglo-Amalgamated library, amongst others) are now releasing them all in a series of 7 box sets of three discs each, bringing together all 47 of the films as well as some of the other films made by the Independent Artists company that they were often bundled with. From what I’ve seen of the first two sets, the picture quality is superb, offering the films uncut and in anamorphic transfers that preserve their original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. For further details, visit the Network DVD website at: www.networkdvd.net/

The films

Here is the complete list of the film, including credits for the author of the screenplay and the director. Hyperlinks will be added as I post reviews of individual titles

1960

      • The Clue of the Twisted Candle (writer: Philip Mackie, director: Allan Davis)
      • Marriage of Convenience (w. Robert Banks Stewart, d. Clive Donner)
      • The Malpas Mystery (w. Paul Tabori, d. Sidney Hayers)
      • The Man Who Was Nobody (w. James Eastwood, d. Montgomery Tully)

1961

      • Clue of New Pin (w. Philip Mackie, d. Allan Davis)
      • Partners in Crime (w. Robert Banks Stewart, d. Peter Duffel)
      • The Fourth Square (w. James Eastwood, d. Allan Davis)
      • Man at the Carlton Tower (w. Philip Mackie, d. Robert Tronson)
      • Clue of Silver Key (w. Philip Mackie, d. Gerard Glaister)
      • Attempt to Kill (w. Richard Harris, d. Royston Morley)
      • Man Detained (w. Richard Harris, d. Robert Tronson)
      • Never Back Losers (w. Lukas Heller, d. Robert Tronson)
      • The Sinister Man (w. Robert Banks Stewart [& Philip Mackie], d. Clive Donner)

1962

      • Candidate for Murder (w. Lukas Heller, d. David Villers)
      • Backfire (w. Robert Banks Stewart, d. Paul Almond)
      • The Share Out (w. Philip Mackie, d. Gerard Glaister)
      • Flat Two (w. Lindsay Galloway, d. Alan Cooke)
      • Number Six (w. Philip Mackie, d. Robert Tronson)
      • Time to Remember (w. Arthur La Bern, d. Charles Jarrott)
      • Locker 69 (w. Richard Harris, d. Norman Harrison)
      • Playback (w. Robert Banks Stewart, d. Quentin Lawrence)
      • Solo for Sparrow (w. Roger Marshall, d. Gordon Flemyng)
      • Death Trap (w. John Roddick, d. John Llewellyn Moxey)

1963

      • The Set Up (w. Roger Marshall, d. Gerard Glaister)
      • The 20,000 Pound Kiss (w. Philip Mackie, d. John Llewellyn Moxey)
      • Incident at Midnight (w. Arthur La Bern, d. Norman Harrison)
      • On the Run (w. Richard Harris, d. Robert Tronson)
      • Return to Sender (w. John Roddick, d. Gordon Hales)
      • Ricochet (w. Roger Marshall, d. John Llewellyn Moxey)
      • The Double (w. John Roddick & Lindsay Galloway, d. Lionel Harris)
      • The Rivals (w. John Roddick, d. Max Varnel)
      • To Have and to Hold (w. Jimmy Sangster [as 'John Sansom'] d. Herbert Wise)
      • The Partner (w. John Roddick, d. Gerard Glaister)
      • Accidental Death (w. Arthur La Bern, d. Geoffrey Nethercott)
      • Five to One (w. Roger Marshall, d. Gordon Flemyng)

1964

      • Downfall (w. Robert Banks Stewart, d. John Llewellyn Moxey)
      • The Verdict (w. Arthur La Bern, d. David Eady)
      • We Shall See (w. Donal Giltinan, d. Quentin Lawrence)
      • Who was Maddox? (w. Roger Marshall, d. Geoffrey Nethercott)
      • Act of Murder (w. Lewis Davidson, d. Alan Bridges)
      • Face of a Stranger (w. Jimmy Sangster [as 'John Sansom'], d. John Llewellyn Moxey)
      • Never Mention Murder (w. Robert Banks Stewart, d. John Nelson-Burton)
      • The Main Chance (w. Richard Harris, d. John Knight)

1965

    • Game for Three Losers (w. Roger Marshall, d. Gerry O’Hara)
    • Change Partners (w. Donal Giltinan, d. Robert Lynn)
    • Strangler’s Web (w. George Baxt, d. John Llewellyn Moxey)
    • Dead Man’s Chest (w. Donal Giltinan, d. Patrick Dromgoole)

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25 Responses to Edgar Wallace Mysteries (1960–65)

  1. Sergio – Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I am so glad that some of these classics are being re-released. I won’t claim to be thoroughly knowledgeable about Wallace’s work. I’m not. But I do hope that these re-released films will call some well-deserved attention to it. And then of course as you point out the films have value in their own right. It’ll be interesting to see how a new audience will respond to them.

    • Thanks very much Margot. I know that the films started being screened in US syndication packages as early as the late 60s and they did try to make them a bit Translatlantic in appeal (i.e. they refer to ‘lawyers’ rather than solicitors etc). Anyone who watched Roger Moore as the Saint or (even better) Patrick McGoohan as Secret Agent (aka Dange Man) will have a good idea what to expect in terms of look and basic style, though as there are basically no recurring characters, the endings are always open – some indeed conclude qute bleakly!

  2. Colin says:

    Twelve months ago I never would have believed this series of films would see the light of day. I have such fond memories of late night viewings of these though. Right now, I’m kind of torn between buying the individual volumes or waiting for the (cheaper) box set. I have the first two on pre-order and will likely stick with that, picking them up as and when the mood suits. Between these Scales of Justice and Scotland Yard, Network are going to set me back a fair bit of cash over the coming months.

    • I watched these when repeated in the early days of Channel 4 and have been eagerly awaiting their release on DVD. Very glad I resisted getting those grey market edition doing the rounds. These have been on people’s ‘want list’ for so long it’s hard to believe it has worked out – to be honest that was partly why I wanted to just write an introductory post. I was lucky to be sent a review set and am, so far, incredibly pleased with the results. So far from set 1 I have watched (all the way through) Twisted Candle, Partners in Crime and Four Square as well as Urge to Kill. John Kruse’s October Moth, an IA production that has nothing to do with Wallace, has an extraordinary feel to it in its opening 10 minutes which is all I’ve seen, very brooding and all set at night.

      • Colin says:

        I just adore these kinds of early 60s Brit B movies, there’s such a refreshing lack of BS and pretension.

        Great poster for October Moth.

        • Exactly – I’ve really been enjoying getting re-acquainted. I do enjoy the Rialto krimis but I love the unpretentious Merton park thrillers, even if it isn’t too hard to guess whodunit most of the time! I’ll review Twisted Candle properly in a few days but it makes for an excellent start to the series. I’d forgotten it co-starred David Knight, who was great in the Sansgter-scripted Hammer thriller Nightmare.

          Re October Moth, shame it’s not a bit bigger poster. I haven’t watched that one all the way through yet but it really looks impressive so far.

  3. Todd Mason says:

    I was wondering how these might compare to the krimis.

    • Hi Todd – I haven’t checked in any great detail, but it does not appear that they were adapting the same source material. As I understand it, the rights that were sold by the Wallace estate were not exclusive to either company, but it would appear that the 90 novels and stories that Anglo Amalgamated bought the rights to, and which were filmed by Merton Park, were different from those used by Danish/German combine Rialto. In terms of style, the German films are much more flamboyant and to a certain extent lurid, depicting a never-never land version of England stuck somewhere between late Victoriana (always enshrouded in fog) with Jack the Ripper just round the corner and sleazy strip clubs and drug taking that are very 60s. The camerawork is elaborate and expressionistic quite often, frequently tipping into self-parody. By comparison, the British films are much more straight-laced, clearly aimed at much more conservative viewers, with a mumch more restrained (and plainer) look, with certainly no performers like Klaus Kinski to chew up the scenery. There were attempts at a cros-over with some German actors appearing in later Merton Park films, but it seems that these were not considered a success. This trailer gives a pretty good idea of the approach of the Rialto films:

  4. Patti Abbott says:

    Would love to see these. If only I had access to such things.

    • Hi Patti – you can view one of the earliest entries, Partners in Crime, online on YouTube here. I think the DVDs being released in the UK from the end of this month onwards will play on any PC but otherwise you might need a DVD player set for multi-region though I haven’t tested this and they may even be region free releases.

  5. Great choice for overlooked films, Sergio! I’m not familiar with Wallace’s books either though I have a few of his ebooks on hard-disk. These I have yet to read. This series sounds a lot like Alfred Hitchcock Presents where, if I’m not mistaken, many of the stories and screenplays were all new and their only connection to the famed filmmaker is his name. I have watched a couple of these B&W episodes on FX or Fox Crime TV. There’s a particular charm about black-and-white crime and thriller films that work very well with the Hitchcock and Wallace type of mysteries. Barring Richard Harris, none of the actors mentioned against the list of films are familiar to me. Of course, I’m bad with names so probably I might “know” some of them if I saw their films which, hopefully, I’ll get around to doing soon.

    • Hi Prashant, glad you enjoyed the post. Actually, the Richard Harris I was referring to is a British playwright and screenwriter who is still around and has written for films and TV since the late 50s, working on such TV shows as The Avengers, The Saint, Darling Buds of May and A Touch of Frost for instance as well as the cricketing play and sitcom Outside Edge. Here is his IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0365234/.

  6. My mistake, Sergio. I thought you were referring to the Richard Harris who plays Dumbledore in the initial two Harry Potter films. He passed away in the early part of the last decade. Thanks for the link.

    • Easy mistake to make Prashant as the name is spelled exactly the same! Unless you’re a fan of British TV or B-movies, you’re probably not going to know who Richard Harris the writer is. I really recommend his cricket comedy Outside Edge, which is regularly performed on stage and which he turned into a splendid comedy starring Timothy Spall and Brenda Blethyn.

  7. I love these Edgar Wallace mysteries and now there available on amazon the music at the start makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
    So many stars started the trade on these old films great post very interesting
    Edd

  8. Mike says:

    Got five out of the seven of these so far – and have watched them avidly… superb stuff. These used to be on Central late at night in the early 1980s … Thank God for DVDs being invented so Studio Canal can take my money and transport me back me back 30 years to when I wacthed them – they were already 20 years old then. Never thought I’d get to see them all again. John Thaw, Michael Caine etc – stars who began in these B movies. And of course Bernards Lee and Archard, Nigel Green etc – plus a plethoira of outstanding Euro female actresses – most of which were never seen again … ! marvellous stuff!

    • Cheers Mike – what’s good is that they stand up – they were really popular at the timne and you can still see why. It probably helps if you don’t get too hung up on how loose the ‘adaptations’ are and just enjoy the casts, the atmospehere and the great 60s ambience and occasional locations – Network have just release an omnibus box set bringing it all together though nothing has been added (would have been good to have that execrable Gerry Anderson movie, Crossroads to Crime, but it’s been released singly and cheaply).
      EDGAR WALLACE

  9. David Stickland says:

    I now own all seven box sets. I have fond memories of the Edgar Wallace series, mainly because I screened most of them as a cinema projectionist during the 60s at a lovely art deco cinema in Tenterden Kent (Embassy) Who could forget the Warner Pathe & Anglo Amalgamated logos after the certificate. I have re watched four of the seven box sets so far. One special gem is the extra (House of Mystery) A nice little ghost story from 1960. The ending will have your hairs standing on end.

  10. David Stickland says:

    Yes Mike, The Embassy Tenterden still stands in the High Street. The exterior of the building is untouched and even has it’s name in letters on the facade but sadly the interior was gutted to make way for a supermarket and now stands as a well known clothes store. Built by Shipman & King, the 800 seater Embassy opened in 1937 and closed in 1969. I had five happy years there screening the delights of Edgar Wallace & The Scales of Justice films until closure in 69. The towns people are hoping it will re open one day as a twin venue but we will have to waite and see.

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