Review for Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Volume 1
Are you a fan of really great British cinema of the fifties and sixties? Yeah – me too. There’s something about that era of British movie-making that is just a joy to behold. So what would you say, just as you thought your collection of great British films was nearing completion, if I wheeled out a crate of films from the era that you’d never heard of – never even knew existed? And all top notch, with great monochrome cinematography and flawless transfers? Well, I expect you’d be pretty excited. And guess what. These Edgar Wallace collections are shaping up to be exactly that.
Between September 1960 and October 1965 cinemas in the UK screened 47 films produced by Anglo Amalgamated labelled up as ‘Edgar Wallace Mysteries’. They were low budget B-movie affairs, all (more or less) based on stories penned by the prolific and popular Edwardian author, Edgar Wallace, still incredibly popular in the day though less so today. (Maybe this will help change that?). The stories were a cut above the penny-dreadfuls though hardly high-brow, flitting between locked-room murder tales and intriguing spy-tales.
There were all produced (bar one) at Merton Park Studios by Jack Greenwood and, watching Series 1 and 2 back to back, are a veritable who’s who of British acting talent at the time with Harry H. Corbett, Michael Caine, John Thaw and Paul Eddington amongst many others appearing in them across their ‘seven seasons’. (Sorry for the TV series like vernacular but these were really made in that way, being distributed almost weekly like a TV show. In truth, they got an airing or two later in life, as TV series both in the UK and the US, but back in the very early sixties they were destined for the cinema).
Despite these being produced to order, syndicated TV in the US occasionally integrated others not strictly made for the series but branded that way, nonetheless, like Crossroads to Crime (1960), directed by Gerry Anderson no less (and which may delight his fans?). ‘Urge to Kill’ (included on disc one of this first series) is another which was not made for the series but which became adopted and it’s really good to see it included here. (A tale about a backward boy assumed to be a serial killer).
They all look absolutely glorious In black and white (a budget issue then but, for my money, a stylistic bonus!) and the transfer is really excellent. The prints looked top-notch even on this reviewers 50” plasma which can be very unforgiving to standard DVD discs.
Despite the stories originating from Edwardian times, they are presented here as contemporary tales and it’s great fun when the action spills out on to the streets of London to see so much of life at that time.
Apart from locked-room murder mysteries, there are also tales of men on the run, forgers, blackmailers, jewel thieves, race fixers and just plain old fashioned gang-wars. The stories vary wildly too – from the blissfully entertaining to the slightly slow moving, though there are no complete duffers in series 1. It’s all good.
Even if you don’t know the series (I didn’t) you’ll definitely know the theme song. ‘Man of Mystery’ was written by Michael Carr and played over the back-lit revolving bust of Edgar Wallace at the start of the show, but was covered by ‘The Shadows’ who took the theme all the way to Number 5 in the charts.
Despite the series enormous popularity and reputation, they have never made their way to DVD until now, which is frankly astounding. So their release (through a partnership between archive TV distributors, Network and Studio Canal (who own the material) is to be applauded. As I said earlier – a veritable treasure trove of undisturbed gems and therefore a real treat to a jaded British film enthusiast like myself who has thoroughly plundered all the usual offers. An absolute gift!
In fact all 47 episodes will get a release over seven sets and the only possible reason that you wouldn’t buy them (as a fan of this era of British film-making) would be to wait for the presumed ‘complete’ box set which will be worth its weight in gold.
They are presented in original 1.66:1 and as I said earlier, look amazing.
This is the first of seven sets that could be this year’s most essential and worthwhile purchase.