Tag Archives: Classic British Film

Francis Durbridge’s “The Teckman Mystery”

For anyone growing up in England during the middle years of the 20th century, the name of writer Francis Durbridge, in connection with mystery writing, was an indication of twists and turns, considerable cunning, and particularly fine writing.

Durbridge was very prolific and, although he wrote fiction, his greater reputation was as a scriptwriter for films and television. Throughout those decades, UK audiences would cancel appointments to make sure they were in when the latest Durbridge mystery was aired on our TV screens.

The Teckman Mystery, though, is a film, suggested by Durbidge’s original story The Teckman Biography. It features one of his regular characters the crime-writer Philip Chance, played in this 1954 production by John Justin.

As the film begins, we meet Chance flying back to England from his villa in the south of France. He is returning to London to meet his publisher, who wants him to write a biography of Martin Teckman, an airman who has died testing a new aircraft, though his body was never found.

By coincidence, on his journey to England, Chance meets Teckman’s sister Helen (Margaret Leighton), who seems puzzled by the death of her brother.

Now, I’m not going to give away much else of the plot, for Durbridge deserves to be seen with no spoilers.

Enough to say, that, as so often with Durbridge stories, nothing is quite what it seems to be. Which characters can be trusted, and who are your real allies as opposed to enemies.

A series of “accidents” beset the would-be biographer of Teckman, leading to attempted bribery, burglary and murder – but who wants his investigation into Teckman’s accident hushed up?

And just why are Scotland Yard and MI5 so interested in Philip Chance’s inquiries?

This Cold War thriller made in 1954, was directed by the excellent Wendy Toye, and features an superb cast, including – apart from Justin and Leighton – Roland Culver, Michael Medwin and Duncan Lamont. It’s shot, as are most good films in this genre, in crisp black and white. And how wonderful to see a 1950s London before the city was wrecked by tower-blocks…

Watching the Teckman Mystery is a very enjoyable way to spend a rainy afternoon.

To see links and versions please click on the link below:







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Douglas Wilmer (1920-2016)

Douglas Wilmer (1920-2016)

We were saddened to hear of the death of British actor Douglas Wilmer, albeit at the grand age of 96.

For viewers of our generation, Douglas Wilmer gave one of the greatest portrayals of Sherlock Holmes in a memorable television series which began with a version of “The Speckled Band” in 1964, and continued with another twelve of the Conan Doyle stories before Peter Cushing took over the role. Nigel Stock played Dr Watson – superbly – to both actors.

Douglas Wilmer, with his hawk-like profile, was almost born to play the great detective. He looked just like every one’s imagining of Holmes. Even after all these years I can hear his voice bringing Doyle’s words off the page.

As if that was not enough, Douglas Wilmer played two other great characters in the genre; he was a memorable Nayland Smith, adversary of Dr Fu Manchu, in two film versions of Sax Rohmer’s classic tales, and played the detective Professor van Dusen in a televising of one of Jacques Futrelle’s stories in the series “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes”.

He reprised Sherlock Holmes in the Gene Wilder’s pastiche film “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother”, as well as recording sound versions of a number of the stories.

He was a familiar face in a number of great British films and a regular in television series such as “The Saint” and “The Avengers”, and had a considerable reputation as a stage actor.

It would be wonderful if, in tribute, the television networks reprised the Sherlock Holmes series.

Another great actor has gone from us.

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Three Cases of Murder

As it’s the time of year when we all love a touch of the supernatural,  we thought we might draw your attention to this gem of British cinema.

“Three Cases of Murder” is a portmanteau British film of three stories released in 1955. It is curiously neglected, given the quality of the production, the unusual tales, and the fact that it stars such terrific actors as Orson Welles, Alan Badel and John Gregson.

As a film with ‘murder’ in the title it is very unusual in that two of the stories are supernatural – reminiscent of the Ealing classic (a great favourite of ours) “Dead of Night”. There are elements of the bizarre in two of the stories. A strange mixture of styles but it really works.

The stories are introduced by Eamonn Andrews, best known in this country as the presenter of “This is Your Life”. This in itself was a bizarre idea, but not an unusual device in portmanteau pictures of the period.

I’m not going to say too much about the plots, because this is a DVD you should seek out yourselves. But, very briefly:

In the first story “The Picture” – based on a story by Roderick Wilkinson – a museum gallery attendant is puzzled by the theft of pictures, and absorbed by a painting of a strange house. He is lured into the picture and encounters a murderous artist. It sounds a strange premise and it is, but it is extremely effective and well directed by Wendy Toye. The section features a wonderful performance by Alan Badel as the artist, the first of three different characters he plays in this film.

The second tale “You Killed Elizabeth” is a straightforward whodunit, about two friends who fall in love with the same woman with deadly consequences. The story was written by Sidney Carroll, of “The Hustler” fame. The two men are played by John Gregson, of Inspector Gideon fame, and Emrys Jones, and Elizabeth by Elizabeth Sellars. Alan Badel appears again, showing the great breadth of his acting talent, as a barman.

The third and concluding tale is Lord “Mountdrago”, starring Orson Welles as the title character. According to the actor Patrick Macnee, who had an uncredited bit-part in this segment, Welles more or less took over the direction from the first day.

Mountdrago is a hard-hearted foreign secretary in a Tory government. A great orator who destroys the political credibility of a Labour politician called Owen (a Welshman and probably suggested by Nye Bevan) in a cutting speech. Mountdrago’s words come back to haunt him in an increasingly bizarre series of nightmares (you’ll never think of the old music hall song “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do” again in quite the same way once you’ve seen it performed in this film!)

Welles’s descent into madness in wonderfully written and superbly performed and directed. Alan Badel appears again as Owen in a mesmerising performance that quite matches that of Welles. The original story was written by W. Somerset Maugham.

The DVD we have, in The Best of British Collection produced by Odeon Entertainment, also has an extra in the form of Orson Welles’s short ghost story “Return to Glennascaul”. I’ll say no more about this here but watch out for a Christmas blog next week when I’ll pay it proper attention.


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