“Joseph Higgins was quite dead.”
When a postman (Moore Marriott) dies mysteriously on the operating table of a rural hospital during WWII — and a nurse (Judy Campbell) with incriminating evidence is killed shortly thereafter — an inspector (Alastair Sim) is sent to investigate which of a close-knit team of doctors (Leo Genn and Trevor Howard) and nurses (Rosamund John, Sally Gray, and Megs Jenkins) is the murderer.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Alastair Sim Films
- Detectives and Private Eyes
- Doctors and Nurses
- Leo Genn Films
- Murder Mystery
- Trevor Howard Films
- World War Two
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that this “famous whodunit” by the creative team of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Laudner — who worked together on more than 40 films between 1930 and 1966, including The Green Man (1956) and Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938) — “is much overrated”. He states that while “the mystery is satisfactory… the proceedings are surprisingly somber” — yet as Tom Huddleston wrote in his review for Not Coming to a Theater Near You, the film can actually be viewed as a sort of “Ealing noir,” one which effectively incorporates atmospheric cinematography (by Wilkie Cooper) and noir-ish tropes (i.e., a contentious love triangle) into its Agatha Christie-style ensemble murder plot. As DVD Savant notes, the film “has a dark undertone, an uneasy quality that works against the surface order of the standard wartime English movie” — and it’s exactly this “dark undertone” that makes the film so memorable.
Peary argues that Alastair Sim’s “supposedly witty” detective is “a poorly conceived character”, seemingly “in the wrong film” — a point I’ll agree with to a certain extent. As enjoyable as this quirky actor always is to watch, his Inspector Cockrill adds incongruous levity to the proceedings; when he first enters the screen with a slapsticky stumble and roll, we feel as though we’ve suddenly switched to watching a Jacques Tati film. Peary also somewhat cynically states that the “picture’s major advantage is that you forget who the murderer is from one viewing to the next”. Interestingly, I was convinced I remembered the killer’s identity from when I first saw this film ~15 years ago, but was absolutely wrong — so his point is well-taken! However, the mystery itself is more enjoyable than Peary’s snarky statement would have you believe: it’s full of conflicted love interests and guilty secrets, with each of the would-be murderers (particularly Jenkins) turning in a solid, believable performance. Definitely worth a look.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine performances by the ensemble cast
- An effectively tense screenplay
- Wilkie Cooper’s atmospheric cinematography
Yes, as a smart little thriller.