On this wintry night, Larry Gordon (Sydney Tafler) is on a train trying to catch up with some shut-eye when he can’t help but notice the little old lady sitting opposite him in the compartment keeps glancing and peering at him over the top of her book. He also notes the book has his photograph on it, for it is one he has written, being a thriller writer with a strong following which evidently numbers Miss Owens (Christine Silver) among them, so eventually she can contain her excitement no longer and asks him if he is who she thinks he is. He wearily confirms it, and she enthusiastically requests him to sign her novel, then quizzes him on how he gets his ideas and what he does with them once he has them. However, just as he is in full flow, they are both alarmed to hear a loud scream that sounds outside the window, and are moved to investigate…
The fascination a certain era in British thrillers had for the possibilities of railway travel was also in full flow when Mystery Junction was released, indeed there had at least been a good twenty years of them by this stage, including benchmarks in the genre like Rome Express or The Lady Vanishes, and if this minor B-movie was not up to those standards, addicts of vintage mysteries would find much to appreciate. Although the action began on the train carriage, it didn’t stay there, betraying the influence of the granddaddy of these sorts of suspense pieces, The Ghost Train, the theatrical play penned by Dad’s Army star Arnold Ridley, adapted and frankly ripped off often, and also set for much of its story in a station in the middle of nowhere, all the better to isolate the characters and ramp up the tension.
You may ask what the point of building a train station in the middle of nowhere would be since the point of these establishments is to get passengers from one place where there are a lot of people to another, but that need not detain us here, all we needed to know was there was a murderer on Larry’s train and now he was stuck with them as the facts began to be cleared up. Mind you, for a film lasting just over an hour, they didn’t get cleared up too far for they started out as a simple enough puzzle to solve and wound up a convoluted mix of connections between all the passengers that it may or may not have been worth your while to figure out. In the early stages in the carriage, we were introduced to the cast of characters as Larry and Miss Owens performed some amateur sleuthing, quickly finding the guard had been attacked and his jacket stolen – but to what possible purpose?
Also on the train were showbiz sister act Pat Dawn (theatre great Barbara Murray, essentially the leading lady) and Mabel (Patricia Owens, who would end the decade married to the scientist who became The Fly) and a cop transporting a dangerous criminal, though it turns out the actual dangerous criminal was Steve Harding (Martin Benson, already typecast as the villain) who starts ordering everyone around once they reach the waiting room. This has naturally been cut off by the snowstorm, leading to a proto-The Thing set-up in the drama, not least when suddenly the lights go out and somebody is shot dead: was one of the passengers responsible, or is there an outside party hanging about preparing to pick them off? In truth, this started better than it concluded, as if writer and director Michael McCarthy allowed what should have been fairly simple to get away from him, and the actual punchline to the story was cute, but not exactly satisfying. However, if you wanted what amounted to a filmed radio play equivalent, then Mystery Junction was amusing enough. Music by Hubert Clifford.
[Nice print on this Network DVD, which has a gallery as its sole extra.]