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Flat Two (1962)


Main image of Flat Two (1962)
35mm, 60 min, black & white
DirectorAlan Cooke
Production CompanyMerton Park
ProducerJack Greenwood
ScreenplayLindsay Galloway
Original novelEdgar Wallace
CinematographyBert Mason
MusicBernard Ebbinghouse

Cast: John Le Mesurier (Warden); Jack Watling (Frank Leamington); Barry Keegan (Charles Berry); Ann Bell (Susan); Campbell Singer (Hurley Brown)

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Two men have both visited Emil Louba, a wealthy gambler, on the night of his death; both have a motive for his murder.

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Flamboyant of character and little less than a literary phenomenon, Edgar Wallace was an incredibly speedy, prolific and popular writer, notching up over 170 novels (as well as numerous plays, screenplays and newspaper articles) before his death, while in Hollywood he worked on the scenario for King Kong (1933). His works inspired numerous film adaptations in the decades afterwards. In 1960 Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy, managing directors of Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors, acquired the rights to the whole of the Wallace library and production of a lengthy series of hour-long supporting features began, shot at Merton Park studios, usually under the supervision of experienced producer Jack Greenwood. The sixteenth film in the series was Flat Two (1962), an updated version of Wallace's murder mystery novel of the same name, penned in 1924.

By now, the formula was well established. Like other directors on the Wallace series, Alan Cooke had previously worked in television, and was used to working quickly and economically. He had overseen numerous episodes of Armchair Theatre (ITV, 1956-68). Later he would move on to The Wednesday Play (BBC, 1964-70) and Play for Today (BBC, 1970-84), before eventually journeying to the US, where his experience on Flat Two may have come in handy when he directed episodes of The Father Dowling Mysteries (NBC/ABC, 1989-91).

Writer Lindsay Galloway had also worked extensively in television, penning episodes of William Tell (ITV, 1958-59) as well as The Four Just Men (ATV, 1959-60), a series based on one of Wallace's most famous novels. He manages to hide Flat Two's venerable origins, but struggles to cram the sometimes cumbersome twists and turns of the whodunit plot into the brief running time. However, the film is always kept afloat thanks to a customarily smooth and effective performance by John Le Mesurier, excellently cast as a debonair but slightly shifty barrister.

Critical opinion was mixed. The Monthly Film Bulletin was unimpressed, complaining that "the improbable plot depends far too much on verbal explanations", though one wonders what a whodunit might otherwise be expected to depend upon. Kine Weekly, by way of contrast, considered it "first rate", and praised its "showmanlike" twist ending, enthusing that "the principal characters are boldly drawn and expertly shuffled, but the trump card comes legitimately from under the table."

Vic Pratt

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Le Mesurier, John (1912-1983)
B Pictures