An hour-long ‘B’ picture made by Independent Artists at their Beaconsfield Studios near London, The Malpas Mystery is often regarded – and marketed – as one of the Edgar Wallace mysteries produced by Jack Greenwood at Merton Park. Cheaply and quickly made these second features gained great popularity in UK cinemas, and overseas when sold straight to US television (“Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre”) in the early-mid 1960’s. While the quality of the series as a whole is uneven, some have a certain flair that sets them apart from just B-movie status.
The Malpas Mystery is one of these. The plot may be a little too reliant on coincidence, but some sinister effects give it a distinctly creepy atmosphere, probably thanks to director Sidney Hayers, a proficient director whose work was always worth watching.
The film opens with Audrey Bedford (Maureen Swanson) being released from prison after serving nine months for unknowingly carrying stolen diamonds. She goes to the home of her stepsister, Dora (Sandra Dorne). Dora is a buxom peroxide blonde living in a mews house, who keeps a French maid. In 1960 she would have been called a ‘good-time girl’, nowadays we would just say ‘high class hooker’ and have done with it. Initially turning Audrey away, Dora is surprised when her ‘gentleman friend’, Lacey Marshalt (Allan Cuthbertson) asks Dora to bring her along to a party at his home. At the party Marshalt complains about his next-door neighbour, the reclusive Mr Malpas.
In the next scene, Laker (Edward Cast), rings Malpas’s doorbell. A grating, mechanical voice tells him to come in and the front door opens and closes behind him automatically. Once inside a bare lightbulb turns on by itself, revealing a derelict cobweb strewn house. Going upstairs, another door opens and Laker walks into the room. Blinded by a spotlight he can barely see Malpas sitting behind a desk. He has information. An old enemy of Malpas, South African diamond millionaire Torrington (Geoffrey Keen), has been released from prison (where Malpas sent him) and is in London seeking revenge. Suitably rewarded, Laker is about to leave but freezes in fear as he reaches the front door. Fade out…
The rest of the plot is easily disposed of. Lacey Marshalt has recognized Audrey as Torrington’s lost daughter. Hoping to come into Torrington's fortune, Marshalt persuades Dora to pose as Audrey. Torrington, however, is not fooled by the fraud. Audrey, meanwhile, has been employed as a typist/secretary by Malpas. A detective, Dick Shannon (Ronald Howard), who has always believed in her innocence, accompanies her to the Malpas house. Shots are heard, the couple find Marshalt dead and no sign of Malpas. After calling for help, Marshalt’s body has disappeared. He is found in his own home, alive and well, saying Malpas shot him but fortunately he was wearing a bullet-proof vest.
Audrey is now employed by Torrington himself, who recognises his daughter from a scar on her arm. Marshalt plans to marry Audrey, inherit Torrington’s millions, dispose of her and live happily ever after with Dora. Audrey refuses his proposal and he kidnaps her. Torrington is then called by Malpas and told that if he wants to see his daughter again he has to pay. Just as things get nasty, the trusty Dick arrives, frees Torrington and pursues Malpas to the roof. After a shoot-out Malpas falls to his death and is revealed as… Marshalt! Torrington and Dick find and release Audrey, then Dick makes his own proposal which Audrey seems more inclined to accept.
More than a few coincidences here but there is a nice red herring involving Alan Tilvern as an apparently shady figure (with a dreadful mid-Atlantic accent) who provides the sexist tagline for this review (sorry, but it’s such a good line). One of the best touches is the atmosphere of the Malpas house which is well conveyed as both creepy and threatening, and Malpas himself as the type of all-knowing, subtly powerful villains we saw in the early Bond films (Dr No, Goldfinger).
The cast are efficient and carry their roles off very well. There are no major stars, just good character actors who know what is expected of them. Only Ronald Howard looks a bit too old (and, frankly, dull) to interest Audrey.
One of the best of the ‘Edgar Wallace’ series (if we accept it as one of the series), The Malpas Mystery is very impressively filmed for a cheap second feature and a step above the rather flat and boring items of the same period.