Clue of the Twisted Candle (1960)

The Edgar Wallace Mysteries were a series of roughly four dozen hour-long B-movies made to sit on the lower birth of a cinema double bill, originally released in Britain at a rate of roughly one-a-month between 1960 and 1965. For a complete list of the films, with links to my reviews to be added as I go along, visit my dedicated page here. The first of the series was Clue of the Twisted Candle, it’s a locked room mystery and stars Bernard Lee.

The following review is offered for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme over at his Sweet Freedom blog, where you will find many other gems.

“Anson, I’m not going to rest until I prove that Viney’s death was accidental and Lexman was unjustly convicted. And when I say I’m not going to rest, I mean you are not going to rest” – Superintendent Meredith (Bernard Lee)

The Series: For a complete of the films in the series, with links to my reviews to be added as I go along, visit my dedicated page here.

The Book: First published in 1916, the book’s protagonists are Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner T. X. Meredith and his old friend, mystery author John Lexman. They are  investigating the activities of Remington Kara, a Greek (or is it Albanian?) tycoon with a shady past who now lives in fear of his life and has turned his bedroom into a virtual fortress with impregnable walls and only one door, which can only be opened with a latch on the inside. He is found dead inside, with only a burned candle as a clue. There is also a mysterious one-armed man, an heiress in disguise, a dog gets killed, and the usual Wallace accoutrements in terms of hissable villainy, secret passageways and a murderer who is fairly easy to spot. This book is also very easy to find and has been published online in various places, such as here.

The Film: In updating Wallace’s book, which is spread out over a fairly lengthy period, Philip Mackie collapses the narrative to suit the requirements of low-budget filmmaking and a one-hour running time though keeps the basic structure intact. The villain, played with bushy delight by Francis De Wolff, is now named Ramon Karadis but remains a shady character who lives in fear of his life and asks for a direct line to Scotland Yard so that if anyone tries to kill him he will be able to call them direct, which seems like a great bit of personalised service and very nice of the Yard.

Bernard Lee plays Meredith, who is assigned to the case, apparently because he has a keen understanding of the social register as he is forever being asked by his superiors if he has heard of this or that person – it’s an amusing appeal to the nobility, trying to give the film a patina of gloss and upper crust grandeur that it can’t really display on this kind of budget but which is often seen as being part and parcel of the traditional whodunit. In this respect this feels a lot more like a conventional murder mystery than many of the thrillers that would follow in the series. Meredith knows that Karadis is a bit of a dodgy character but can’t prove anything, so after being shown round the man’s seemingly impregnable study (rather than the bedroom in the book), the phone line is installed. We are now introduced to two new characters which will drive the plot along.

Karadis has a cryptic meeting with Viney, a seedy chap (played by the wonderful Richard Vernon, unusually playing a lower class character) with whom he is involved in some of criminal enterprise. He gives him an address and asks him to take a letter and an unloaded gun to an appointment there, to be driven by his chauffeur, later that night. The man he is to meet turns out to be John Lexman (played by David Knight), who has been changed quite considerably from the character in the book. He is a friend of Karadis’ (though not of his girlfriend, who is clearly unhappy at his arrival) and meets him at his home in the afternoon. Lexman has received a blackmail note and Karadis gives him a gun for protection and burns the letter. That night Viney goes to meet Lexman – we never see what happens, but while the chauffeur waits a shot rings out. Enter Scotland Yard …

Lexman tells Meredith that Viney had come to blackmail him and pulled a gun on him, so he had no choice but to defend himself. Lexman claims the gun had a hair-trigger and he didn’t really mean to shoot, but now the pistol has gone missing. Back at the Yard, Karadis claims to have no knowledge of the blackmail letter and the gun, leading to Lexman’s arrest. We now realise that this was the plan all along, to frame him for Viney’s murder, though this a pretty feeble plan – even with a hair-trigger, he might not have killed the man after all and the chauffeur driven car is a clear link back to Karadis. None the less, Lexman ends up in jail. Meredith knows that he must be innocent and sets out to prove it. In a plot development that ends up actually quite similar to that of the Hitchcock movie Frenzy  (based on a novel by Arthur LaBern who also wrote some of the Wallace films interestingly enough), Lexman breaks out of jail and tries to get his revenge while Meredith tries to track him down and prove the he is innocent. It is only at this point that we actually get to the locked room mystery …

While Lexman is on the run, Karadis is visited by his blustery and unpleasant associate Dr Griswold, who takes a special interest in the man’s new butler, who we know is an old lag. In fact he briefly shared a prison cell with Lexman, who finally turns himself in to the police – while talking with Meredith, who tells him that he thinks he can prove now that he didn’t kill Viney after finding the gun that went missing, the direct phone line from Karadis rings – they head there and find the room bolted on the inside. One oxyacetyline blowtorch later, and Karadis is found murdered inside, with only a couple of candles out-of-place. The man clearly had the time to ring Scotland Yard on his special phone, but was then murdered and his killer apparently vanished into thin air …

The locked room mystery probably won’t tax hardened fans of the genre but is certainly ingenious and pretty simple to understand for once, not involving complex and unlikely mechanics and the case is solved fairly quickly by Meredith who makes for an appealing hero, played with perhaps rather more animation that we are used to by Lee, occasionally prone to flights of brash enthusiasm as he races around trying to clear Lexman’s name and nail Karadis. He scenes with his sergeant (Stanley Morgan) are great fun, and it is no surprise that the duo re-appeared a few more times together playing variations on the roles later in the series. The British Film Institute’s journal or record, the Monthly Film Bulletin, welcomed the beginning of this series of films, remaking that it, “…augurs well for the stories to come … curiosity is aroused and resourcefully maintained”, and for once I think they got it right. This efficient little movie, an hour in length, is plenty of fun, has a complex plot and plenty of intriguing characters. Great way to while away a quiet afternoon, especially in the excellent new edition on DVD.

The DVD: Network are releasing all of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries produced by Anglo Amalgamated on DVD across seven box sets, with an omnibus 21-disc box set also scheduled. Extras include liner notes by Kim Newman, stills galleries and another 7 films loosely related to, but not actually part of, the series. Volume 1 includes Clue of the Twisted Candle, and as a bonus Vernon Sewell’s Urge to Kill and John Kruse’s brooding mini-masterpiece, October Moth.

Director: Allan Davis
Producer: Jack Greenwood
Screenplay: Philip Mackie (from the novel by Edgar Wallace)
Cinematography: Brian Rhodes
Art Direction: Wilf Arnold
Music: Francis Chagrin (theme music by Michael Carr)
Cast: Bernard Lee, David Knight, Colette Wilde, Francis de Wolff, Stanley Morgan, Richard Vernon, Gladys Henson, Harry Locke

*****(3.5 fedora tips out of 5)

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15 Responses to Clue of the Twisted Candle (1960)

  1. vinnieh says:

    Haven’t heard of this one but will try and give it a look.

    • Cheers Vinnie – the new DVD box sets are tremendously good value and if you like little black and white mysteries, I think this would be an excellent imvestment!

  2. Patti Abbott says:

    I sure would like to see these although I don’t buy DVDs. Maybe on TCM,

    • Thanks Patti – shame you don’t buy DVDs. Episodes have been available on the gray market for years but as far as I know, this is the first official set of the films to have been produced. You can view Partners in Crime, one of the earlier films in the series and in which Bernard Lee and Stanley Morgan essentially reprise their roles from Twisted Candle, on YouTube here. It’s not as good as the earlier film though …

  3. Sergio – A thorough and thoughtful discussion of this film and book. It sounds as though the collapsing of the timeline worked in the film. Many times as you know that isn’t successful. And some great characters too. Nicely done here!

    • Thnaks very much Margot. Wallace always seems like an author that should translate well, especially for his emphasis on dialogue (he wrote two dozen plays after all) and of course he was belatedly very heavily involved in movies from the late 20s, even directing one and becoming part of a company contracted to make adaptations of his work at a rate of one a month at one stage. But they don’t necessarily update very successfully (that is to say they can be quite dated), especially his fondness for secret societies and master criminals, which certainly belong to the pre World War II period. And yet this isn’t always so and it is interesting to see what remains of the novel in the simplified screenplay, which incidentally was written by a very sympathetic author with a real love of Edwardian adventure stories. He would later write and produce the 1970s version of Raffles starring Anthony Valentine and also scripted many of the segments of the Rivals of Sherlock Holmes series taken from the Hugh Greene anthology.

      • Sergio – That’s the thing about the difference between a novel and its film adaptation isn’t it? In a novel things such as secret societies, master criminals and so on don’t need to take away from the story. It’s harder to make them fresh on film. Thanks also for the very interesting background on the film. I didn’t know about the connection between it and Raffles and the Rivals of Sherlock Holmes series. Interesting!

        • I usually find it very easy to separate adaptations from the sources though I know others really object. Certainly, it can be very frustrating when you disagree with the reason for a change or think it lacks integrity. Luckily, in the case of the Wallace series where it is only about providing entertainment, there is nothing to ever get upset about! Well, the connection to those other shows is admittedly only through Philip Mackie but he was one of the most prolific writers of the Edgar Wallace films. I particularly love his Raffles series, which I felt often improved on the original stories actually. Many of them are rather naughtily available on YouTube (such as here)

  4. Interesting choice, Sergio. I’d like to read the book before I see the film adaptation, though I confess to not having read anything by Wallace yet. A dead body in a room locked from the inside and a couple of displaced candles as possible clues ought to make this an intriguing film to watch. I’m quite sure TCM India with its fare of predictable films and reruns hasn’t shown any of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries. The DVD sets would seem a better idea.

  5. Colin says:

    Nice one Sergio. I’m waiting for Amazon to ship the first two volumes of these sets. I have the House of Stratus edition of the novel sitting on my shelf at the moment so I may give it a look while I’m waiting.

    • Cheers Colin, really hope you enjoy the book (which is great fun and very Wallace) – the set from Network is marvellous though!

      • Colin says:

        Yeah, really looking forward to it.
        I’m close to finishing off Carr’s The Problem of the Green Capsule – great stuff so far – and then I’ll dig into the Wallace book.

        • That is a great book by Carr – I’ve been tempted to re-read some of my old Wallace books while I’m on my hols even though they are all in Italian! curious to re-read The Three Oak Mystery which was apparently turned into Marriage of Convenience which is on set 1 (and a gas a great performance from Harry H. Corbett and a great car chase on a vespa scooter!) but I just couldn’t see the connection with the book from my ancient memory of it …

  6. Pingback: The Edgar Wallace Anthology | Tipping My Fedora

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