Sunday, 22 January 2012


THE EDGAR WALLACE SERIES of B-movies were another product of Merton Park Studios and

like the previous series, THE SCALES OF JUSTICE, it was produced by Jack Greenwood. Back in the early 1980's I interviewed Jack Greenwood for an article I hoped to send the The Edgar Wallace society. I told Greenwood that my absolute favourite of the series was THE MALPAS MYSTERY directed by Sidney Hayers. Greenwood informed me that this particular film was the only one of the more than forty films in the series (counting ACT OF MURDER which was not really an entry in the series) that he had not produced! This didn't exactly get the interview off to a good start so although he answered most of my questions he wasn't exactly forthcoming and the article was not a success and was never submitted.

The series was very watchable and the rotating bust of writer Edgar Wallace and the theme music "Man of Mystery" (made into a hit by The Shadows) were always welcome extras at the cinema. Unlike the earlier Merton Park series which had been 30 minutes running time the Wallace series ran for about an hour. The strength of the series was that they had good stories - robbery stories like SOLO FOR SPARROW to locked room murder mysteries like THE CLUE OF THE NEW PIN (one of the best) and my own favourite, the aforementioned THE MALPAS MYSTERY which had something of the flavour of the German Wallace "Krimi" films being made simultaneously in West Germany. Casts included all the usual British B movie suspects like Jack Watling, Geoffrey Keen, Michael Coles, Allan Cuthbetson and Michael Gough (who did three films) and among the supporting actors one can spot young Michael Caine as an Irish crook in SOLO FOR SPARROW.


Exploring British supporting films of the 1950's and 1960's might not reveal much art but it can be fun. The series of 30 minute mysteries made at Merton Park were as much a part of my childhood cinema going as were the Edgar Wallace series (see previous post) of my late teenage years. The series consisted of thirty-nine films, each introduced and narrated by crime novelist and criminologist Edgar Lustgarten. Lustgarten (left) is perhaps best remembered today for being the direct inspiration for the "criminologist" narrator of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. The series is of particular interest for some of the location shots taken in and around 1950's London.

SCOTLAND YARD was also the training ground for Ken Hughes who would go on to direct some interesting crime B movies (JOE MACBETH, THE LONG HAUL etc) and the much admired THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE before graduating to much bigger fare with CROMWELL and CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. Hughes directed the first half dozen or so of the series and two of my particular favourites. I have a mildly personal interest in THE BLAZING CARAVAN(1953) as the plot (at least the murder method itself) is obviously inspired by the murderer Arthur Rouse. My mother always swore that she had met Rouse just prior to the murder he committed and that he was her husband's cousin - despite much research I can find nothing to corroborate her claims. Better is THE DARK STAIRWAY (1954) which is virtually a mini film noir, full of shadows and other noir trappings which enliven this little murder tale set in the murky underworld of London's Soho alleys and drinking clubs.

When the series ended the format had been so successful that it was revived as THE SCALES OF JUSTICE which ran for thirteen episodes with Lustgarten again as the on screen narrator of stories inspired by murder trials. In 1971 Lustgarten was found dead from a heart attack in Marylebone Library, London. Some time earlier his mistress had been found dead in a bath in his flat, apparently a suicide.


Alan Bridges was a rather good British Television director in the 60's who went on to make a few cinema movies of varying quality. ACT OF MURDER was his first feature and received excellent reviews at the time of its release despite being a low-budget supporting feature. Often listed as one of Jack Greenwood's Edgar Wallace series made at Merton Park studios (and sold to American television as THE EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERY THEATRE) the film was not actually part of that series (hence the completely different titles sans the revolving bust of Wallace so well remembered by cinemagoers of the 60's). What could have been a puzzling little mystery is rather ruined by a script which gives the game away far to early. It is however easy to see why this litte programmer caught the eye of a few critics. Bridges strives to make something of the film with some interesting compositions and directorial flourishes not usually seen in British B-movies of the time. The very bleak ending is very unexpected. ACT OF MURDER is, despite its faults, a fitting companion to Bridges other interesting B-movie, the sci-fi INVASION. Rating **

IL VANGELO SECONDO MATTEO/The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

Pier Paolo Pasolini's film has an awesome reputation as the best film based on the story of Jesus.
When I say that, for me, the film is problematic, I have no wish to take anything away from the director's achievement because I think this is a very heartfelt film. As a Christian myself I am aware that both believers and non-believers have many differing views of what Christ was like
and the fact that Pasolini's view doesn't happen to correspond with mine (although it comes closer than some) does not worry me in the slightest. There is a tendency in some to believe that the dirtier and grittier you depict something the nearer it becomes to reality. Unfortunately, in his depiction of First century Israel Pasolini is probably further away from reality than any Hollywood epic. In this film everybody seems to be scrabbling among the ruins and even Herod's Temple is a ruin when it was actually a building of great splendour still under construction in Jesus's time. It is all very well for Pasolini to base his film strictly on St. Matthew's Gospel but the film gives no sense of the Jewish backround either of the subject or of that particular Gospel (the most Jewish of the four). If a sense of realism was Pasolini's aim I feel that the casting of non-professionals works against this intent. Rossellini, Visconti and the other Italian neo-realists used non-professionals in their films for a purpose when depicting contemporary subjects and it worked in giving a sense of documentary realism. All Pasolini achieves (for me at least) is a lot of Italian peasants with bad teeth standing around in rags looking awkward. Like most biblical films Pasolini stumble on the depiction of the Resurrection - although one can hardly blame any director for that - and he veers sharply away from his avowed source. But there were things in the film I liked such as the early scenes with the young Virgin Mary (much more successful than the later scenes with Mama Pasolini as the aged Mary) and Joseph but they are few. As I have said, I don't doubt for a second Pasolini's sincerity
only his methods. It remains, however, a film that should be seen. Rating ***

Sunday, 15 January 2012


Here is an unashamed plug for a book written by two good friends of mine. I'll be honest and say that I have not read the book yet but having heard something of the background to the writing I am sure that this is going to be an interesting and informative read. Oliver Reed was a fine actor and also, sadly, one of the great tragedies of the British film industry and a book of this sort is long overdue. I am proud to say that I contributed a brief second -hand memoir related to me by my old friend, former Hammer publicist Brian Doyle who sadly died just before the authors could contact him. The book is currently available through Amazon and other sources.