Thursday, 14 February 2013

Partners in Crime [1961]

PARTNERS IN CRIME is a British B-movie thriller that was directed by Peter Duffell and originally released in cinemas in 1961.  It stars Bernard Lee, John Van Eyssen and Moira Redmond and follows the progress of a detective working on a burglary / murder case.  Although it was shot on film and intended for the big screen, this movie - like a great many other British B-pictures - ended up on television as part of the Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre series.

The critical reputation of these films was never very high, particularly at the time they came out.  As they were supporting features (in the days when you used to get two films for the price of your ticket) they weren't taken very seriously, if they were considered at all.  However, more recently there has been a reappraisal of their worth by film historians and academics who recognise them as an important proving ground for young technical and acting talent.  Indeed, part of the appeal of watching them today is the spotting of absurdly young-looking stars of the future, such as a pre-ZULU and ALFIE Michael Caine.  Not only that but they provided leading roles for character actors who might otherwise have been doomed to a career lower down the bill.

PARTNERS IN CRIME is a good example of this sub-genre.  There is a very swift set up of the plot: wealthy businessman Harold Strickland (Victor Platt) has just returned home from a night out with his wife Freda (Moira Redmond) and business partner Frank Merril (John Van Eyssen) when he disturbs a burglar and is shot dead.  Inspector Mann (Bernard Lee) takes charge of the investigation.  While Mann flounders with virtually nothing to go on, the audience is made aware that the insanely ambitious Merril hired a lorry driver to murder Strickland, whose share of the business Merril wants.  We are also one step ahead of the police in learning that Merril is also conducting an affair with Strickland's wife, who is well aware of his murderous scheme.

The film progresses at a breakneck pace but is essentially a rudimentary police procedural movie.  We follow Mann's investigation from pathologist report, to footprint evidence, to ballistics, through interviewing of the 'usual suspects', until they finally get their big break when a vital piece of evidence falls into their lap.  There's nothing particularly innovative of startling about all this but it's totally engrossing and, crucially, always finds time for a splash of colour, such as a memorable supporting character, an unsual location or, for modern audiences, a nostalgic sight of English life from fifty years ago.

Regular readers of this blog (if there are any left, given my shamefully long absence) may remember my review of a German krimi film.  That sub-genre is I suppose a close relation to these British crime B-pictures (and they are almost exclusively crime stories) and the most important factor they have in common is Edgar Wallace, upon who books most of these films are based.

It seems an obvious thing to say about a film that is over fifty years old but PARTNERS IN CRIME, like most of the other Edgar Wallace pictures I've seen, is quaintly old-fashioned.  I don't mean that in a technical or period sense, because they are simply reflecting the standards of the day, but more in a moral sense because it is noticeable that in these movies crime absolutely does not pay and the detective almost always gets his man.

Bernard Lee of course is familiar to millions as the original M in the James Bond movies.  A fine actor, he could probably have played these weary detective roles in his sleep but he is a figure of tremendous integrity and reassurance.  John Van Eyssen and Moira Redmond were basically supporting players, both of whom had decent screen and TV careers.  Both have good delirious credentials too: Van Eyssen played Jonathan Harker in Hammer's 1958 version of DRACULA and was also in Joseph Losey's much grittier look at British crime in THE CRIMINAL [1960].  He eventually gave up acting and became a studio executive.  The beautiful Moira Redmond also did a turn in a Hammer production, in her case Freddie Francis' 1964 psychological thriller NIGHTMARE.  She had a long career in TV, including the seemingly obligatory appearances in DANGER MAN and THE AVENGERS.  Also in the cast, as a diligent and public-spirited pawnbroker is Nicholas Smith who lovers of dreadful British sitcoms will recognise as the officious Mr Rumbold in ARE YOU BEING SERVED?  Director Peter Duffell also worked on THE AVENGERS, just one stop in his lengthy TV career, although he did also direct one of those beloved portmanteau horrors THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD [1971].

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