A MATTER OF WHO. MGM, UK, 1961; US, 1962. Terry-Thomas, Sonja Zeimann, Alex Nichol, Richard Briers (debut), Honor Blackman, Carol White, Guy Deghy, Martin Benson, Geoffrey Keen. Screenplay by Milton Homes & Patricia Lee, based on her article with Paul Dickinson. Directed by Don Chaffey.

   This unlikely comedy-mystery builds up real suspense with Terry-Thomas playing mostly straight as an eccentric British ‘germ’ detective for WHO, the World Health Organization.

   It begins innocently enough with an American businessman apparently succumbing to too much alcohol on his honeymoon flight to London. Taken to the hospital at Heathrow until the cause of his condition can be determined, his new bride (Sonja Zeimann) and business partner, a fellow Texas oilman (Alex Nichol), meet each other and Archibald Bannister (Terry-Thomas) a representative of WHO while waiting for news of the ailing man.

   When it turns out smallpox and not alcohol is the cause of the ailing oilman’s ill turn, the international WHO organization is mobilized, with British representative Bannister and his assistant (Richard Briers, best remembered for the series Good Neighbors, making his film debut) out to find where the victim acquired the disease and using every means at their disposal to do it.

   That proves more than a little dangerous for both Bannister and the victim’s business partner, as international politics, skullduggery in the cutthroat oil business, the mysterious new bride who knows something she won’t tell, a smuggled dog, a kidnapped corpse, a remote Austrian village stricken with a smallpox epidemic, Bannister a fugitive from the law, and a shady international playboy are all added to the mix until the climax in an Austrian cable car.

   The mystery is excellent, the twists frequent, the heroes meet numerous setbacks, and the comedy is generally played quietly arising from the situation and the people in it and not contrived silliness (there is a contrived car chase).

   Other than his bad driving, clothes, and car, Bannister is presented as a good man who knows his job and does it with rare skill. You likely haven’t seen Thomas like this in a film, and may, like me, be a little surprised how well he handles the role without resorting to his usual schtick.

   This one works fully on all levels. It is sexy and smart, sharply written and played, well directed by Don Chaffey, and both the mystery and suspense well served, both they and the clues arising from the nature of the real criminal, the disease smallpox, and its nature and behavior. And don’t assume you have out-guessed it or Bannister, as both have surprises up their sleeves right to the end.

   I spent a long time looking for this one, and I’m pleased to say than other than the theme song, it was no disappointment. A Matter of WHO is a fine little film with a first class cast and more than enough to keep you glued to your seat until the last clue is sorted.