Saturday, May 15, 2010

Send for Paul Temple (1946)

Send for Paul Temple: movie posterIf you're an Anglophile and especially a fan of British radio drama, you're sooner or later going to run into Paul Temple. Created in mystery novels by author Francis Durbridge, Temple's a crime novelist turned-amateur sleuth: the go-to man when Scotland Yard are baffled by a mysterious case, need some help tracking down a criminal, or just want to hang out with cool, debonair, witty and urbane socialite Temple. Why, wouldn't you?

Played in radio drama by many actors, Temple's best-known portrayal is by Peter Coke (pronounced "Cook," so for quite a while I thought the well-known British comedian filled the role). The books and radio series all feature Paul and his lovely wife Steve, swapping bon mots, sipping cocktails, and solving crimes all around England and in the Continent. The upper-class married couple as detectives is a familiar one in books, radio, and film: think The Thin Man's Nick and Nora Charles, Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, even DC Comics' superhero-and-wife turned sleuths, Ralph and Sue Dibny.

Each episode of the Peter Coke Paul Temple radio show begins with the series' signature tune, Vivian Ellis's light orchestral piece "Coronation Scot, "to which I mentally supplement with my own made-up-lyrics:

Here is Paul Temple
He's got a wife
Her name is Steve and
They have got a pony...

I'm making that part up, of course. They really don't have a pony.

As with so many popular mystery novel and radio series, the inevitable movie adaptation follows—the first of the Paul Temple movies, Send for Paul Temple, is the thrilling saga of a man, his letters, and a playing card:

Send for Paul Temple: title card

I tell another lie: it's a mystery thriller that pits Temple against what must be either Britain's boldest gang of jewel thieves, or its dumbest. They stage smash-and-grab robberies in broad daylight on a crowded street, ten feet away from a policeman, who they then shoot point blank, having no sense of British courtesy, reservedness, or judicial reform. The police, being police in a mystery film, are baffled! The solution? Why, it's right in the title: send for Paul Temple! This phrase is repeated several times throughout the movie, possibly for the people who came in during the middle of the film.

Send for Paul Temple: newspaper

Send for Paul Temple, with its gangster robbery ring and brutally high (for a period British mystery) body count, has the feel of a noir private dick thriller, but a uniquely British one with policemen in bobby's helmets and old English pubs, mysterious dying clues, poisoned suspects, and suspects a-plenty, from a boozy pub landlord to a chipper spinster tourist, a country doctor and a "comedy" Asian houseboy. There's plenty of skulking around in bushes, showdowns with criminals, and a nighttime automobile chase culminating in an unconvincing model shot of a car plummeting off a bridge.

Send for Paul Temple: car crash

There's nothing exceptionally original here, but the mystery has a clever twist, and the actors are clearly having a good time, especially Anthony Hulme as Paul Temple and Joy Shelton as his (soon-to-be) wife Steve. Their chemistry is by no means Bogie-and-Bacall or even David Addison and Maddie Hayes, but there's a lovely pleasure to Hulme's smile when Shelton enters a scene, and Joy Shelton brings a chipper and spunky edge to newspaper reporter Steve when the couple meet for the first time. Answering a long-time question of mine, "Steve" isn't short for Stephanie; it's her journalistic pen-name, which momentarily hides the fact that she's closely related to one of the murdered men.

Send for Paul Temple: Paul and Steve

It's the romance that makes the film: adding Steve to the mix brings a romantic banter to what would otherwise be a fairly pedestrian crime mystery movie. While some of the scenes attempt John Alton-style noir, you never forget it's the countryside in a motion picture filmed in England. American mystery movies might be released by the big powerhouse studios of the time: Warner Brothers! MGM! RKO! And over in England we have

Send for Paul Temple: production company card
"Butcher's Film Service of Walton-on-Thames."

Wow, you couldn't get more British than that even if you stapled the Queen to the title card.

A similar period movie set in Chicago or Los Angeles would feature rats scurrying through dark and filthy alleyways, but in Send for Paul Temple we instead get

Send for Paul Temple: cats

Even though the last half-hour looks like it was shot on a soundstage lit by a single 25-watt bulb...

Send for Paul Temple: Steve and Paul's all done with such a light touch that its forgivable. In other words, come for the mystery, stay for the romance, and enjoy the bright happy ending that puts Paul and Steve together forever in their legendary roles of husband and wife. And hey, what do you know...he really does have a pony!

Send for Paul Temple: horseback riding

If you liked Send for Paul Temple, hey, have we got great news for you!

Send for Paul Temple: Newspaper headline

No, no, not the shooting of a policeman...this great news:

Send for Paul Temple: Newspaper headline
More Paul Temple Films are coming!

Yup, there were three other movies in the Temple series, although they didn't star Anthony Hulme and Joy Shelton. Still, with a sequel on the horizon, at least you can say with confidence that this is not the end of Paul Temple.

Send for Paul Temple: The End

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