Sunday, May 16, 2010

Calling Paul Temple (1948)

Calling Paul Temple: posterPut on your tuxedo, pour a chilled martini, and settle down to watch with me Calling Paul Temple, the thrilling adventures of a telemarketer who's only been given a single name to contact by his vindictive boss. Actually, it's the sequel to Send for Paul Temple, which suggests that before, Scotland Yard was perfectly willing to pay his travel expenses, but now they'll just ask him questions over the phone.

The action begins one year after the previous movie. It's Paul and Steve's first anniversary, and they've celebrated by getting younger and turning into completely different people.

Calling Paul Temple: Steve and Paul

Actually, that's the all-new, all-different Paul and Steve Temple, British actors John Bentley and Dinah Sheridan, who bring a cheerful and up-tempo beat to their scenes and dialogue. Much as I enjoyed Anthony Hulme and Joy Shelton, Bentley and Sheridan bring a brisker, more romantic banter to the characters, and you can't help but wonder if the mostly subdued falling-in-love subplot of Send for... would have taken a further step onto center stage. Bentley and Sheridan are a convincing doting couple and would play the Temples in two more films in the series.

This time, the mystery is more complicated and the plot has more thrills and genuine cliff-hanging moments, not unlike the radio program—not surprising, as the storyline is adapted from the 1945 radio serial "Send for Paul Temple Again," which was remade yet again on radio in 1968 as "Paul Temple and the Alex Affair." Beautiful women are being mysteriously murdered. The only clue? The scrawled word REX on the walls. Which means the murderer can only be one man:

Calling Paul Temple: Rex Harrison is not in this film
British stage and film legend Rex Harrison!

Whoops, I've made another one of my silly mistakes. That's why Paul Temple's the detective and I'm not. Besides, I'm pretty sure the Butchers Film Company, Ltd. Couldn't afford Harrison. No: "REX" is another mysterious dying clue—the Temple mysteries, like those of Ellery Queen, are full of them, and Paul and Steve become entangled in the case, tracking down the mysterious Mrs. Trevellyan, who's connected to each of the victims.

While the hook is the cryptic mystery, the real highlights are the teasing and affectionate light dialogue between Steve and Paul, and the competent cast of British B-level actors, especially Wally Patch as "Spider" Williams, cheery accomplice and one-eyed informant, who manages to get a rise out of the usually unflappable Steve.

Calling Paul Temple: Spider, Steve and Paul

The pace is brisk, with a few well-timed action sequences that toss Paul and Steve into danger, including a car crash and an encounter with a ticking time bomb:

Calling Paul Temple: The Bomb

There's an encounter with a mysterious hypnotist, red herrings a-plenty, and a trip to Canterbury to track down clues. Can you spot the immediate connection between a typed list of the victims and the menu at a hotel?

Calling Paul Temple: A List of the Victims
Calling Paul Temple: Hotel Menu

It's all in good fun even if you can spot the beats of the plot a half-hour ahead. Who can guess what's going to happen to this woman as she momentarily pauses in the writing of a letter that will reveal the identity of the murderer Rex?

Calling Paul Temple: Rex is...Argh!

Yes, that's a good lesson to be learned from Calling Paul Temple: in any note explaining your role in a criminal affair, be sure to lead off the letter with the identity of the murderer.

Calling Paul Temple is one of those B-movie mysteries that offer a lot of fun for the dollar pound. I very much enjoyed the crossover with the works of J. K. Rowling as Paul and company chase the villains through Hogwarts...

Calling Paul Temple: Canterbury Church

...and just like a James Bond movie on a tighter budget, the villain is keen on tying up the heroes in an underground catacomb beneath a Canterbury church and letting the forces of H2O do the dirty work for him:

Calling Paul Temple: Steve and Paul are trapped!
Calling Paul Temple: Steve and Paul almost drowned

See, this is about the point when I'd like to see Paul Temple's ultra-smart trained dolphin, Finny, swim in and rescue them, but alas, even though we've seen he does indeed have a pony, he has no dolphin. I'd fix that oversight if I were writing new Paul Temple serials: each adventure he'd team up with another new animal pal who would assist him and Steve in cracking calamitous crimes. Just imagine it: "Paul Temple and the Panda Affair!" "Paul Temple and the Kangaroo Kaper!" "Lights Out for Paul Temple and His Electric Eel!" "Paul Temple's Egrets Are Unable to Lunch Today!" And many more. Think about it, won't you, estate of Francis Durbridge?

Like its predecessor, Calling Paul Temple is an exceptionally light mystery/romance where the plot takes a definite back seat to the dialogue and clever back-and-forth repartee . Your attention may wander during the murder mystery, but when Paul and Steve step onstage, the movie shines. It's in great part due to Dinah Sheridan's light and sparkling portrayal of Steve Temple—a more vibrant and playful performance than the perfectly competent but more sedate Joy Shelton. This is a Steve who's an even partner to her front-billed husband: she spots clues, hears bombs ticking, and looks elegant and stylish even in a dressing gown.

Calling Paul Temple: Steve

The formula of husband and wife sleuths is a tried-and-true one that didn't originate nor peak with the Paul Temple mysteries, but while it's sometimes possible to have a single male protagonist who later marries his partner in deduction (Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane stand out a good examples), I doubt a Steve-less Paul Temple story would be half as interesting. Consider the venerable NBC Sunday Night Mystery feature McMillan and Wife starring Rock Hudson and Susan St. James. When St. James left the series due to a contract dispute, the show was renamed McMillan and cancelled two seasons later. Frankly, I would've given Miss St. James a truckload of cash to keep that romantic chemistry together. Would Hart to Hart be as successful if it was just Hart? Where would Clark Kent be without Lois Lane? Ricky without Lucy? Ben but no Jerry? Gin without tonic?

Calling Paul Temple: Paul and Steve

No, give us our Steve. The films might be named after Paul Temple, but in Calling Paul Temple, it's clear what makes them more than just an ordinary British mystery is the partnership of Paul and Steve. Which only goes to prove: even murder mysteries can have a very happy ending.

Calling Paul Temple: The End

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