People who follow this series possibly will not believe it, but I never heard of it before. Here it is. In Great Britain there was a drama series based on the character of Paul Temple, a crime fiction writer who lends a hand solving actual crimes. Starting in 1938 a series based on the character ran on British radio, and ultimately there were four movie adaptations. This was the first, Calling Paul Temple, with John Bentley in the title role. This came out in 1948, 70 years ago, and it is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.
The movie runs for 90 minutes, and I watched it through once. That said, I found the plot intertwined enough to fuzz my diminishing wit, so I will fall back to sketching the plot and explaining what I was able to discern.
The opening scene you can tell is on a train, because everything is shaking and swaying back and forth, and there is train noise. It’s the night express from London to Canterbury, and the conductor is going around punching tickets. When he gets to one compartment the occupant a comely and apparently well heeled blonde woman is dead. Further examination reveals she has been knifed. When the shade to the compartment is pulled down, the word “REX” is revealed written on the inside. This is the third of the Rex murders, and police are baffled.
There is more to come. We can tell this production spares no expense by the lavish set that opens scene two. It’s a swank night club, and patrons are sitting around at tables enjoying sumptuous meals while the floor show features a smashing blond chanteuse, Norma Rice (Celia Lipton) with a lovely voice delivering forth an absolutely vacuous number that goes on and on, chewing up celluloid by the yard.
Much as she is wonderful to look at, we are glad when the song is over, and she retires to prepare for her next number. At a table we see Paul Temple and his gorgeous wife (Dinah Sheridan) named, incongruously, “Steve.” They are joined by Sir Graham Forbes (Jack Raine), apparently with Scotland Yard. He wants to discuss the Rex murders.
He could not have come to a more auspicious place for the discussion, because immediately after her opening number, Norma goes to her dressing room to change. While there she pens a note to Sir Graham, asking him to come to see after her second number. She says she may be able to help him with the Rex murders.
Her dresser takes the message and heads for the club floor, and in the corridor she encounters a woman dressed in a gray suit going the other way. The woman enters Norma’s dressing room.
Shortly, Norma makes an entrance and sings another number, accompanied by a bevy of charming womanhood. At one point in her song she is near the top of those stairs, seen in the shot above, when she collapses and falls down the stairs. Of course she dies. Of course she has been poisoned.
Paul and Steve accompany Sir Graham go up to Norma’s room to look for clues. The dresser tells about the woman in gray but can give no additional details. Steve strikes something with the toe of her shoe, and it’s a unique lipstick. Not thinking it might be a clue, she filches it for herself, and it is never revealed again in the movie, although there are subsequent references to this particular cosmetic brand from Egypt.
And now I’m going to cut out a lot of stuff. Paul scans the news, which is about the murders and the “girl in grey.” Also, on a road trip to Canterbury, Paul and Steve get ambushed by a man who is waiting alongside the road in a classic touring car and gets off four shots at them, sending their roadster into the bushes. They catch a lorry back to London.
The touring car traces back to one Dr. Kohima (Abraham Sofaer). It was his car alongside the lonely English road, but he was not driving, and neither was his chauffeur, who was on vacation in Ireland. Somebody “borrowed” the car and then returned it. The mystery deepens.
Paul decoys Dr. Kohima out of the room on the premise of phoning about his car while Paul rifles the doctor’s files. He discovers the names of murdered women among the doctor’s patients. This is suspicious. Also, Dr. Kohima is Egyptian.
It deepens further when Dr. Kohima’s assistant, Mrs. Trevellyan (Margaretta Scott), pulls Paul aside and confides. She cannot talk at the office. She must meet him at her place after work. She gives Paul the address and the time to meet, 6:30.
Well Paul and Steve show up at the appointed time, only to find the door ajar and Mrs. Trevellyan gone. The clock on the mantle displays 6:15, and they shortly discover it is not running. They find a scrap of paper with four names produced by a typewriter in all caps: Mary Anderson, Lady Hackwill, Agatha Ladycross, and May Haddington. In script at the bottom is “Sent. B.T.” Steve holds up a desk pad to a mirror to read another cryptic message. Then they discover the ticking sound they hear is not the clock, but it is a time bomb. Steve rips the explosive charge loose and tosses it out the window, whereupon it goes off with a deafening roar. The timing mechanism is left intact for future examination.
It later turns out, as Mrs. Trevellyan explains, that she was lured out of her flat by a hoax phone call.
Skipping over some more detail, the woman in gray comes to Paul’s flat while he and Steve are at lunch, and she sends the houseboy (Shaym Bahadur as Rikki) to fetch Paul. After Rikki leaves, the woman starts to pen a note to Paul. The note reads:
In case anything should happen to prevent me seeing you, this is to tell you that REX is
She never gets to finish the note. The doorbell rings about that time, and she goes to the door.
Whoever was at the door shoots and kills the woman in gray, who then falls dead on the floor inside.
Skipping over more detail.
The whole deal is a blackmail plot. Somebody has snooped on Dr. Koshima’s files and is using information on patients to extort money. One guess is that some victims are being murdered to put the scare into the others. Then Paul’s friend Edward Lathom (Alan Wheatley) tells Paul that he is being blackmailed, as well. He cannot reveal his guilty secret, and he intends to pay off. He has been instructed to leave the money in the Old Friar’s Monastery in Canterbury.
Paul and Steve arrange to be there when the blackmailer comes to collect. The collection agent turns out to be Mrs. Trevellyan.
Winding this down, Paul and Steve get lured back to the monastery, and are captured by a villain I was unable to identify but who binds them to a pillar and opens a sluice from the river to flood the chamber, sentencing them to a slow death. Along come reinforcements, and they are rescued.
Which brings it all to a head. The usual suspects gather in Dr. Kohima’s office to settle matters. Mrs. Trevellyan, who has been in a hypnotic trance induced by the doctor is now brought around. She had been blackmailed into divulging Kohima’s files. She is ready to reveal the name of the blackmailer. In the darkened room a shot rings out. She is wounded, and the perpetrator makes his escape.
It’s Edward Lathom. But the outer door is locked, and he can’t get out.
Neither can the others escape the inner office, for that door locked automatically, as well. Paul scales a drain pipe and corners Lathom in an upper floor. They struggle over the gun. A shot rings out. Lathom appears at the top of the stairs with the gun. Paul jumps him from behind and subdues him on the stairs. The murder mystery is resolved.
It’s a convoluted plot, and I left a lot out. A bunch of it is contrived. In multiple instances (3) we have victims about to reveal what they know, only to be cut short at the last moment. Mrs. Trevellyan survives. The woman in gray is murdered in Paul’s apartment and the next scene shows the crime mess all cleaned up and no sign of police snooping about looking for clues. Somebody ambushes Paul and Steve on the road to Canterbury, using Dr. Kohima’s car, which leads Paul and the police back to Kohima and the undoing of the blackmailer.
Production quality is at or above par for the period, vis the elaborate nightclub set swarming with extras. Acting is dead on, and director Maclean Rogers keeps the action and the scenes visual and dynamic. I imagine Francis Durbridge‘s original plot exhibited more relevance, which was then subverted for the exigencies of making the movie.