Jigsaw is a compelling crime film that rattles along at a cracking pace. At 107 minutes, the film is fairly long but every minute has some incident or clue to keep you interested. Having the same pseudo-documentary feel of Val Guest's The Day the Earth Caught Fire of the previous year (and using many of the same troupe of character actors) the film combines murder and mystery with a detailed look at police procedure. The screenplay hides nothing from the viewer, and all the clues are there if you’re willing to look out for them.
The setting is the rather seedy underside of Brighton, not exactly criminal, but not quite respectable either. Detective Sergeant Wilks (Ronald Lewis) is called to investigate a burglary in which the thief stole property leases from an estate agent's office. When the estate agent complains that the police aren’t doing enough, Wilks’ superior, Inspector Fellows (Jack Warner), joins the enquiry. During the course of the investigation of the burglary a woman’s dead body is uncovered at an isolated house leased to a man named John Campbell.
The local constabulary painstakingly assemble the “jigsaw” of clues to reconstruct the woman’s life story and death, hoping this will lead them to the killer. The police follow leads from eyewitnesses, the murder weapon, items found in the house and try to trace Campbell’s car but after exhaustive enquiries it quickly becomes apparent that ‘John Campbell’ was an assumed name and that the elusive killer has covered his tracks. Clyde Burchard (Michael Goodliffe), a womanising vacuum cleaner salesman who owns a car that fits the police description is arrested on suspicion of committing the murder, and Inspector Fellows summons a host of key witnesses to the police station in the hope they’ll identify the guilty party. Has Fellows finally got his man?
Well, I'm not going to spoil it for you. Better watch the film for yourself and admire its efficient, understated style. From the Hitchcock-like opening, scanning a number of houses before peering into the window of one of them, to the sharp location filming that gives a great sense of place and immediacy to the story-telling, Jigsaw holds the viewer in a real grip. In many scenes overlapping dialogue is used to drive the film forward.
The characters are all distinct and well-drawn, and even the briefest appearance makes its mark, often with some poignancy, particularly from John Le Mesurier as the father of the murdered woman, and Yolande Donlan (Mrs Val Guest) as a key witness.
Although based on the novel ‘Sleep Long My Love’ by Hilary Waugh, which was set in Massachusetts, the film actually reclaims the book's inspiration for its native country. In 1924 Patrick Mahon rented a cottage near Eastbourne for himself and his lover Emily Kaye under an assumed name and murdered her there during an Easter weekend. He then picked up another woman, Ethel Duncan, and invited her for a weekend fling while his first lover's body was still in the house. He then tried to dismember and dispose of Emily Kaye. In his defence he said Emily had told him she was pregant and attacked him when he refused to marry her, dying accidentally by falling and hitting her head on a coal scuttle. Two unrelated cases, ten years later, which involved bodies concealed in trunks became known as the 'Brighton trunk murders'.
While there may be few cinematic frills in Jigsaw, it's one of those films that does just what it sets out to do: it entertains, it intrigues, and it keeps its suspense until literally the final minute. Above all it has a true-to-life atmosphere and genuine honesty about human nature and relationships.