This whodunit was originally marketed as an “Edgar Wallace mystery thriller” but in fact was an original screenplay by Fedora favourite, George Baxt. We begin in ultra traditional fashion with a woman in a nightgown being pursued in a park at night by persons unknown. In a nice reversal we realise that one of the persons is a uniformed policeman, who eventually finds the woman’s body and a man kneeling next to her. He was her lover and the two had just fought – but is he the strangler?
This review is offered for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme over at Sweet Freedom.
Vichelski: “She runs a Soho club, one of those French places where they plays records”
Preston: “Oh, a discotheque”
Directed with his usual verve by John Llewellyn Moxey, with lots of handheld cameras and smart handling of subjective flashbacks in which we hear the narrator but otherwise see the action play out silently, this is an economical mystery that finds lots of good ways to vary the formula without straying too far from convention. Baxt was always a writer with humour uppermost in his mind and this is well in evidence with his choice of hero.
Despite the presence of a dashing Scotland Yard Inspector played by Gerald Harper, the real protagonist is down and out solicitor Lewis Preston (pudgy and balding but “pretty-eyed” John Stratton), who we first meet surfacing after a three-day bender from which he can’t remember anything, including striking his long-suffering wife. He is immediately sorry but she has had enough understandably and walks out.
“Michael drives an E-type. He’s a model. Not sure what of …”
His client is John Vichelski (the great character actor Michael Balfour), who is accused of killing his partner Norma Brent (Patricia Burke) on Hampstead Heath after getting into a drunken argument with her. It turns out she had been having an affair with Amos, a chartered accountant (Maurice Hedley), claiming that she was due to come in to a large ‘inheritance.’ She had got the accountant to run up bills in the name of the once celebrated matinée idol Jackson Delacorte (Griffith Jones), an old lover who has been a recluse ever since being badly scarred in a car accident decades earlier. He now lives in a lovely old house with no one for company except his faithful and fiercely protective niece (Pauline Munro). Preston is trying to get his client off and get back a measure of self-respect and uncovers a tangled family scenario going back decades, all leading to a surprise confession that proves to be false and a logical is still mildly surprising choice of murderer.
At 55 minutes the film never outstays its welcome and there are plenty of amusing moments, such as the top speed car trip to Brighton with the bizarrely named Nell Pretty, played with charm to spare by Pauline Boty, the celebrated painter and founder of the British Pop Art movement. Here she more or less plays herself as a Bohemian free spirit who takes an unlikely liking to Preston. Boty’s presence lends this films tremendous interest, especially in retrospect given how tragically her life ended the following year when she was only 28 after having refused chemotherapy to treat her cancer for fear of losing the baby the was carrying. She is a lively presence that really gives the film spark – the plot is perfectly solid and the presentation above average for a medium-budget B-movie, but it’s her humorous scenes with John Stratton that really stick in your mind. This movie is now easy to get in a technically superior edition – well worth it.
DVD Availability: Network have released all of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries produced by Anglo Amalgamated on DVD across seven box sets, with an omnibus 21-disc box set also available. The technical quality is superb throughout, with all titles accurately presented in anamorphic widescreen. This film appears on the seventh and final volume, which includes: The Main Chance; Game for Three Losers; Change Partners; Strangler’s Web; Dead Man’s Chest; and the non-Wallace release, Seven Keys. Extras include liner notes by Kim Newman and stills galleries.
For my overview of the Edgar Wallace films made in this series between 1960 and 1965, visit my dedicated microsite.
Strangler’s Web (1965)
Director: John Llewellyn Moxey
Producer: Jack Greenwood
Screenplay: George Baxt
Cinematography: James Wilson
Art Direction: Stan Shelton
Music: Bernard Ebbinghouse (theme music: Michael Carr)
Cast: John Stratton, Gerald Harper, Pauline Munro, Griffith Jones, Patricia Burke, Michael Balfour, Pauline Boty, Maurice Hedley