THE CLUE OF THE NEW PIN (1923) by Edgar Wallace

Wallace_TheClueOfTheNewPin_hodderIn 1961 Clue of the New Pin became one of the first of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries series made at Merton Park studios 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, they proved hugely popular (for a complete list of the films, with links to my reviews to be added as I go along, visit my dedicated page here). Based on the 1923 book of the same name, it offers a locked room mystery with an oriental flavour …

The following is offered for Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason at his fab Sweet Freedom blog and Bev’s Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt.

“It isn’t a spring lock, you notice,” he said. “So, therefore, it couldn’t have been slammed by a murderer who first shot Trasmere and then made his escape. It has to be locked either from the inside or the outside. If there was any reasonable possibility of Trasmere having shot himself, the solution would have been simple. But he did not shoot himself. He was shot here, the door was locked upon him, and the key returned to the table–how?”

The Book: First published in 1923, the protagonist is Somers ‘Tab’ Holland, a newspaper journalist who gets involved in the death of Jesse Trasmere, a shady businessman said to be worth millions but who only deals in cash, allegedly keeping all his (ill-gotten?) spoils in a massive vault in the basement of his home. The house itself is securely locked up every night in an attempt to make it virtually impregnable. Trasmere, who was born near the Amur River, still has strong ties to Chinese communities on the mainland and also in London, mainly in the shape of restaurateur Yeh Ling. Trasmere’s impecunious nephew Rex Lander is in love with the actress Ursula Ardfern and is also a friend of Tab’s.

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The plot kicks in with the unwelcome appearance of Wellington Brown, a drunken old associate of Trasmere, who threatens the old man unless he hands over substantial amounts of cash. Soon after Tab and Inspector Carver find Trasmere shot to death and locked inside his own vault – with the only key inside with him and the gun missing! And then there is the matter of how a set of jewels stolen from Ursula Ardfern also ended up in the strong room. The only clue is a pin found at the scene of the crime …

“A murder lends to the locality in which it is perpetrated a certain left-handed fame which those of its inhabitants who appear most disgusted most enjoy.”

This book is very easy to find for free and has been published online in various places, such as here. As a whodunit it is pretty solid and on the whole I thought Wallace did a pretty decent job of hiding the murderer’s identity. The mechanics of the locked room are a bit on the technical side, which I tend to dislike usually because I find them hard to visualise (same thing goes for the technical info dumps you get in modern techno-thrillers). I am after all a simple man of limited mental powers … However, the 1961 film version brought the locked room murder method front and centre, so that helped me understand it much more clearly! In other respects though the book was not followed very faithfully.

“You are a cheerful little soul, Carver!”
“Better be cheerful than dead,” said the detective cryptically …

The Film: In updating Wallace’s book, screenwriter Philip Mackie turns Holland into a TV presenter and compresses the narrative and roster of characters to suit the requirements of low-budget filmmaking and a one-hour running time (58 minutes to be exact). However, he also made a significant narrative shift, which I am going to have to be slightly circumspect about because he decided to reveal the identity of the murderer, and the complex murder method, very early on.

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Absurdly, as was still the custom at he time, the role of Yeh Ling (now turned into Trasmere’s manservant, who unlike the equivalent role in the book, is faithful to his employer and not stealing from him) was played by the Caucasian actor Wolfe Morris, who is subsequently not very convincing. While the Chinese are seemingly the main villains, Wallace proves to be somewhat ahead of the curve I’m glad to say, making this book stand up much better compared with many other titles of the time, with the ‘Yellow Peril; presented as a dubious cliché. However, in he film the elaborate subplot involving Yeh Ling has been largely filleted out, like the part of the story dealing  with Ursula Ardfern and her jewels, which now only get a token mention (oh, and her fist name is changed to Jane for good measure).

“You thought I was a very ordinary Chink?” he said. “Possibly I am. I hope I am,” he said.

None the less, despite turning a decent little whodunit into a thriller and a rather clever murderer into a very stupid one, this is still an efficient little movie which at an hour in length is plenty of fun, especially with eternal upper-class character actor James Villiers being given a prominent role as Tab, while Bernard Archard is typically grave and commanding as Inspector Carver. The film is a great way to while away a quiet afternoon, especially in the excellent new edition on DVD. Incidentally, the book is also, in a really marginal way, the source for the Italo-German Giallo-Krimi crossover What Have You Done to Solange? which I’ll be posting about separately quite soon.

The DVD: 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. 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 New Pin, 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: Bert Mason
Art Direction: Peter Mullins
Music: Ron Goodwin (theme music by Michael Carr)
Cast: Paul Daneman, (Rex), Bernard Archard (Carver), James Villiers (Holland), Katherine Woodville (Ardfern), Clive Morton (Brown)

I submit this review for Bev’s Golden Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt in the ‘revolver’ category:

09-Vintage-Golden-Scavenger-2016

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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This entry was posted in 2016 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, Edgar Wallace, Locked Room Mystery, London, Scene of the crime, Tuesday's Overlooked Film. Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to THE CLUE OF THE NEW PIN (1923) by Edgar Wallace

  1. Hmmm….I’m normally not one for a film adaptation that diverges too much from the book, Sergio. But in this case, I can see how the visuals would make the ‘locked room’ aspect easier to follow. And the book itself sounds great. Wallace was prolific enough that I’m not sure I’d ever be able to read all of his work. But this one sounds worth following up. Thanks!

  2. realthog says:

    I’ve gotta confess I’m a bit of an addict of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries series: the movies are almost a definition of “good garbage.” One reason I’m so fond of them might be that I saw most of them in childhood as B-movies in the local fleapits emporia.

    I keep meaning to have an Edgar Wallace reading binge at some point, but never getting round to it.

    • I love the films (I’m reviewing another one, Silver Key, in a few weeks) but the books are always great fun and it is convenient, for those who have e-readers, that so many of them are easily available that way. I remain paper-bound (sic) for now …

      • Todd Mason says:

        I’m treating them as a series, as I list it given how the packaging goes.

        • Fair enough chum, fair enough 🙂 Just glad tone included – and the film are really great entertainment.

          • Todd Mason says:

            It’s one of those trivial judgement calls that probably won’t ever mean anything to anyone, but when one is doing this kind of thing at all, the default is toward lessening confusion (except for the mischievous or maddened list-maker). I wonder if Anglo packaged them as a series for television purposes, when they had enouhg to make an option of that……

          • Anglo did a thriving business making low budget features, predominantly B movies, for which there was a very specific market at the time as these would be shown on a specific cinema chain in the UK and did very well for them – what then happened was that they did also quite well on the continent and sometimes two films would be re-edited into an A feature length. But I think there was also thinking to make then ‘dual purpose’ for the US market – belatedly they were shown on TV there but Europe only saw them at the cinema until well after the series ended – they were among the most popular films of their type at the time but the market basically dropped out of B’s by the mid 60s and that was it really.

  3. Colin says:

    I have the book somewhere – unread though – and suppose I should try to get round to it. It sounds different enough to the film to be more than worthwhile. Unlike Margot above, I prefer some differences as it makes the two media even more distinct in my mind.

    I haven’t watched the film for a few years now, not since I got the first volume of the series in fact. I liked it quite a bit – it’s no world beater (none of the entries are of course) but more than entertaining enough to pass an hour very pleasurably.

    • The book works quite hard to hide the identity of the killer, but I can see why they went the other way here, sort of. One would act as a spoiler for the other, as a result, but the entertainment value is there but handled very differently, which is fine by me too. Of the early Wallace entries starring Bernard Lee, this is not quite as much fun as TWISTED CANDLE and SILVER KEY (which I’m reviewing too quite shortly).

      • Colin says:

        Again, it’s been a while since I watched those Lee vehicles but I found all of them enjoyable enough.
        I meant to ask bout that “Solange” reference you made – I saw Arrow had put out a new edition of the movie but it’s one I know nothing about. In short is it any good as a giallo or as a thriller in general?

        • The SOLANGE release is well up to Arrow’s high standards technically – the film itself is definitely ‘problematic’ and the link to Wallace is there, but pretty thin. A lot of the content, dealing with a Catholic girls’ school, is deliberately distasteful so it depends on your tolerance for that – at the time I think it was very shocking. The plot, when it comes into focus (and it does take a bit too long actually) is worked out pretty well by giallo / krimi standards and as such is certainly very memorable but there is no getting away from the fact that it is also very nasty. One of the interviews is with the leading lady, who clearly absolutely hates the final film and mocks it relentlessly.

          • Colin says:

            Hmm, I see. It appears to be a bit of a mixed bag then, I’ll think it over. It might sound a bit odd in discussing crime, mysteries, thrillers and so on but I do have something of a problem with excessive nastiness.

          • I wil do a post on it fairly soon. Dallamano’s films always look good and the cast is OK for this kind of film and there are very good extras – but yes, some of it is trying to be shocking and frankly still succeeds, while it is also being a bit parodic. You can view it online if you want a taster (I shan’t post the link but it is on Daily Motion), but the trouble is, for the plot to make sense, which it ultimately does, you do have to stick out pretty much to the end. Have you seen Fulci’s WOMAN IN A LIZARD’S SKIN? Like that film, it provides a very interesting outsider’s perspective on early 1970s London, the plot is sound, and some bits are definitely hard to watch …

          • Colin says:

            No, I’m really a novice when it comes to the giallo genre – just seen a few Bava and Argento films. I think the only Fulci movie I’ve seen was Massacre Time and I wasn’t all that impressed to be honest.

          • I’m not a big Fulci fan either but do rate LIZARD, PERVERSION STORY (An homage to VERTIGO shot in San Francisco) and DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING. What’s interesting about SOLING is that the Wallace connection is extended to the casting of the main German actors, who appeared in a lot of the Rialto films based no the books. Which made it all fun for me when I was;t being squeamish about the some of the content …

  4. John says:

    I’ll pass on all of Fulci after watching DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING, a tawdry S&M sexploitation movie. The only part I liked was all the witchcraft stuff which is dispensed with very quickly. For the time I’m sure it was gasp inducing with the child murders and the reveal of who the killer is though I thought it was ridiculously obvious the moment that character set foot on screen. And the scene where an adult woman attempts to seduce a pre-adolescent boy? I wanted to laugh but it made my flesh crawl instead. The beating sequences of the actress were appalling. But there are some people who seek these movies out just so they can watch the women get beat up. That’s entertainment! NOT.

    I think I might have seen …SOLANGE years ago, but apart from Bava’s and Argento’s movies all the rest tend to blur into one big knife-wielding-killer-slashing-at-buxom-women movie. I can never remember what they’re about. One of the few non-Bava/non-Argento giallos I enjoyed was directed by Anthony Dawson (aka Anthony Margheriti) called SEVEN DEATHS IN A CAT’ S EYE which I wrote about on my blog a while ago. It’s more Gothic and supernaturally tinged and less of a crime movie which is probably why I like it better. Plus it’s just plain loopy. You can’t help but love it for its excess of surrealism and absurdity.

    I’ve never seen any of the British Edgar Wallace movies. I tried to watch a German one last year but turned it off. The dubbing drives me crazy. The actors have artificial voices and have awful line delivery. They ought to release them on DVD with a subtitle option as well as the dubbed soundtrack, but I know how expensive it must be to find a translator and add the entire subtitle track.

    I still haven’t read an Edgar Wallace book from start to finish! I’ve always stopped midway for one reason or another. I only know of the first three quarters of five of his books. HA!

    • I do know precisely where you are coming from, though with many of the best of the giallo and crime films, clearly the attempt was to much at boundaries and in the case of SOLING and DUCKLING, you have to keep in mind how strong the Catholic church was in Italy (still is, more’s the pity). It is also interesting how often women turn out to be the masked villains in the best of the Bava and Argento movies – but I agree, Dawson/Margheriti was usually at his best in the net-gothic arena (though like Bava he was often just seen as a special effects technician first and a director second). You can get some of the German Wallace films in subtitled versions – if you are interested let me know as I will gladly lend you a couple.

  5. JJ says:

    I always get the feeling I should read more Wallace from a genre appreciation point of view, but then the key word there is should rather than wanting to! The Four Just Men was…fine; I’m fairly sure I read another FJM story which was clearly forgettable…maybe a locked room is the way to go.

    • Well, not sure I much enjoyed any of the FJM follow-ups much either. Wallace was so immensely successful in his day that there remains a lot of historical interest in why, but equally the books can feel dated or overly melodramatic – but some of them, like this one, deserve, I think, a wider audience today as part of the whole Golden Age revival. The Crimson Circle and Case of the Frightened Lady are often thought of as among his best.

      • JJ says:

        There are elements of Sexton Blake in this, aren’t there? HUGELY popular at the time, but when you read them now – yeesh! And with Wallace, like Blake, there’s doubtless got to be some good in there somewhere, but who really wants to wade through the inevitable rubbish to find it?!

        Or, who knows, maybe I’m doing him a huge disservice and he’s wonderful. Shall put New Pin, Crimson Circle and Frightened lady on my ever-soaring TBB and then try to come to an opinion on him after them… Many thanks for the steer.

        • I can’t pretend to have read much Sexton Blake in the last 4 decades or so, but Wallace was a pretty solid practitioner, no more dated than early Christie and much funnier and punchier! Very curious to know what you might make of him, especially as I think your GAD tolerance levels are a lot lower than mine frankly 😉

  6. Bev Hankins says:

    This was the first Wallace I ever read (a little over 20 years ago…so long before blogging and real notes). I have very fond memories of it, but retain little of the story. I wish there were more time for re-reads….

    • realthog says:

      I wish there were more time for re-reads….

      One of the great things about Wallace is that it doesn’t take very long to do a reread. 🙂

      • Now there’s a back-handed compliment for you 😉 I think New Pin is about 70,000 words, but of course Wallace tended to favour dialogue over prose descriptions, though there is a nice balance here I thought.

        • realthog says:

          Almost exactly 70,000 words, in fact. That’s quite long for Wallace. A lot of his novels are more like 50,000, and as I recall the FJM is under 30,000.

          • I know what you mean, it did feel a bit longer now that you say it like that (it being more than twice the length of FJM is a real eye-opener actually) – I just checked Clue of the Silver Key and that is 64,000 – review of the latter due on about a fortnight or so …

          • realthog says:

            I’ve just checked FJM and I’d slightly misremembered — it’s about 38,000, a little over rather than a little under half the length of New Pin.

          • Still, a very substantial difference – thanks for that John.

    • No question about it Bev, a lot of great unread books out there 🙂

  7. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have neither read the book nor seen the film. Long, long, long back I attempted Edgar Wallace but couldn’t get interested.
    However, I have seen What Have You Done To Solange ? and ‘ll be interested to read your review on it.

    • Thanks Santosh – review is coming! With Wallace, his first book Jour Just Men is still the right place to start, with its impossible-seeming crime, vigilante ‘heroes’ and compact length! I reviewed it here.

  8. Sergio, I haven’t read Wallace either and though I’m not entirely put off by the film adaptation, considering it is not true to the book, I’d still prefer the latter. I do intend to read the author eventually.

  9. tracybham says:

    I do not know how I missed this post. Both the book and the movie sound good, although the movie sounds better.

    • Thanks Tracy – well, the book is pretty good actually and a decent locked room mystery and whodunit but it maybe a bit long, the film just zips along, gives up on hiding the villain and is more of a thriller – but the films in this series are always very easy to enjoy 🙂

  10. Pingback: What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film | Tipping My Fedora

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