One of my Christmas presents was a DVD of the film Jigsaw. Somehow neither of us had come across this before and we both loved it. Released in 1962, the screenplay was written and directed by Val Guest. The plot is a murder mystery and manages to be a gripping police procedural and a fine example of British film noir. All the more interesting as Jigsaw is adapted from Sleep Long, My Love, a 1959 novel by American mystery writer Hillary Waugh (1920-2008).
Waugh became widely admired for his documentary-style procedurals, a style inspired by reading true-crime studies. Sleep Long, My Love was set in small-town Connecticut and its easy adaptation to an English seaside town illustrates how universal are the themes of deceit and murder.
Jack Warner stars as Detective Inspector Fred Fellows. I’ve always liked Warner, having grown up with fond memories of Dixon of Dock Green on Saturday evenings – his character there was more or less lifted from a more famous British noir, The Blue Lamp (1950). In Jigsaw, Warner plays his usual avuncular detective, yet with a harder, no nonsense edge. His Inspector Fellows is determined to find the murderer on his patch, assisted by his likeable sergeant, well-played by Ronald Lewis.
The plot is full of credible detective work, twists and turns, hence the title. There’s a classic beginning of a woman in a drably furnished bedroom – ashtray by the bed – soon to be murdered by her unseen lover. In some ways this reminded me of a Francis Durbridge drama – although not quite so convoluted – in part because Moira Redmond was cast as the murdered woman. She always seemed to have a strong screen presence and memorably played the title role in the 1972 TV drama re-make of Durbridge’s Melissa.
Jigsaw is largely filmed in and around Brighton and benefits from that atmospheric setting, chosen by generations of novelists and film-makers. A natural choice as the plot has similarities to the infamous Brighton trunk murders of the early thirties. The setting was one reason that attracted me as I’ve known the town well for many years and never walk those streets without thinking of its literary dark side.
I love black and white films and murder/mystery plots are enhanced by a world of monotones, contrasting sunlight and shadows. Brighton here is shown at an interesting transitional time. This is not the famous town (now city) of the Prince Regent’s Royal Pavilion roof-line or the lively Palace Pier. We glimpse the sea-front with the lovely old West Pier still intact but this is back-street Brighton of seedy, peeling stucco, corner shops and rooms to let. The surrounding bare hills are just beginning to be marked by footings for new houses.
The period motor-cars are an added pleasure along with some atmospheric shots of Brighton and Lewes railway stations in their steam hey-day. The cinematography is very effective. The murderer is seen in glimpses without the face. We don’t see the body but we watch the reaction shots of the detectives’ faces as they throw open a trunk lid. The camera dwells lovingly on wet streets by night, cigarette smoke, the Cutty Sark on a bright morning.
As so often in these films, another pleasure is seeing a turn-out of familiar character actors, here including Ray Barrett, John Barron, Michael Goodliffe, John Le Mesurier and Brian Oulton. American actress Yolande Donlan – Mrs Val Guest – does an immaculate British accent.
Hillary Waugh wrote eleven crime novels featuring Police Chief Fred Fellows. They’re going on my reading pile when I can track them down.
Warning – If you plan to buy the film, be aware that the blurb on the reverse of the DVD gives away the identity of the murderer! This is an appallingly careless thing to do and we’re indebted to a kind Amazon reviewer who pointed this out.
It was hard not to read the back before viewing but I’m so glad I managed. A highly recommended classic.