THE VOICE OF MERRILL. Eros Films, UK, 1952. Released in the US as Murder Will Out (1953). Valerie Hobson, Edward Underdown, James Robertson Justice, Henry Kendall, Garry Marsh. Director: John Gilling.

   When convicted blackmailer Jean Bridges is murdered, Inspector Thornton of Scotland Yard narrows the list to those suspects who are without alibis: Jean’s boyfriend, failing author Hugh Allen; publisher Ronnie Parker, who Jean was blackmailing; and the egotistical and obnoxious playwright Jonathan Roach, who had seen her that day.

   Roach suffers with a poor heart, though continues to work and is due to read a series of stories on BBC radio. His dissatisfaction with the material, however, makes him reluctant to do so and his glamorous wife Alycia suggests that he find someone else to read them instead. She recommends Hugh, who has just become her secret lover. Roach agrees and gives Hugh the pseudonym ‘Merrill’.

   The show becomes a success and, over the many weeks it is broadcast, the public begin to speculate just who penned the stories. It is likely that Roach will not live for much longer and Alycia suggests to Hugh that he should claim the stories as his own after her husband dies. The sensation, she believes, will boost his career. However, Roach realises what the pair are up to and devises a plan of his own.

   Director John Gilling co-wrote this 1952 film for Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman’s Tempean Films. Both would make many B-movies throughout the ‘50s and this was supposed to be one of them. Though made for £25,000, however, it impressed its distributor enough to be promoted to co-feature status when aired in cinemas. Perhaps the BBC allusions and the A-list talent of Valerie Hobson convinced them that there was more here than the usual cops and robbers thriller.

   It is certainly easy to forget that it is supposed to involve murder, as much time goes by in which it is not even mentioned and more emphasis is given to the fraud plot involving the radio stories. Indeed, despite the noir-style beginning, most of it plays out like a melodrama and the balance is not always maintained. It does, however, stay within the bounds of the genre and, despite the lack of detecting, the secret romance of Hugh and Alycia is compelling and the character of Roach is as sharply observant as any detective.

   James Robertson Justice, as Roach, brings his usual gravitas to a role which recalls the other abrasive intellectuals he has given us, mainly in comedies such as Very Important Person, Crooks Anonymous and, of course, the “Doctor” films. Despite the witty lines on offer, however, he managers to keep the performance on the right side of comedic.

   Edward Underdown, meanwhile, is suitably lugubrious as a man who is led by the hand to somewhere he does not want to go. With his quiet suavity, it is easy to imagine the actor in the role of a gentleman detective, like Paul Temple. The character he plays here is tortured both by his conscience and a love for a woman with more nerve than he would even want. He also put me in mind of a young John Le Mesurier.

   Valerie Hobson has the showiest part and gets to be everything from cunning, worried, flirtatious and sardonic to desperate, dreamy and hysterical. In one particularly effective scene, she is visibly conflicted as Roach suffers a heart attack and she considers whether or not she should help or let him die.

   On an historical note, this actress, though only thirty five, had been in films for twenty years by this point but would soon quit acting and become embroiled in the infamous Profumo affair.

Rating: ***