Philip Chance (John Justin) is a mystery novelist who is currently travelling on an aeroplane back home to London, and can't help but notice the woman sitting next to him is reading one of his books. She becomes aware of him glancing over her shoulder, and confronts him, then realises he is the author of what she has been reading, and they strike up a conversation where he explains his publisher wants him to write a biography of a recently deceased test pilot, but he cannot understand if there's a market for it, after all he died pretty young and didn't pack an awful lot into his life. That’s when Chance is told by the woman she is Helen Teckman (Margaret Leighton), sister of the late pilot, and the conversation turns a little frosty...
Francis Durbridge was the screenwriter of The Teckman Mystery, not one of his most famous works but very much in the template of his most celebrated character Paul Temple, the crime writer and sleuth of countless radio shows, not to mention television and more occasionally film. Chance never caught on in the same way, but as played by Justin he was a dashing fellow who really could have done with more action to get his teeth into, as there was rather too much talk for this to come alive as a thriller that thrilled. What you were left with was a more cerebral exercise should you care to play along and try to work out the solution to the plot before the hero did, which for some wouldn't be too difficult given the light allusions to film noir that grew more overt the longer the film progressed.
It was directed by Wendy Toye, a rare woman at the helm of a British film of the fifties, though she did not end up making too many cinematic excursions, preferring to concentrate on the stage for most of her career - she was a dancer, so choreography was more her thing. She didn't exhibit a particularly feminine sensibility to her approach here, as the production was somewhat anonymously directed, competent but nothing to offer the impression of an unsung auteur of the decade, though that said it was by no means an embarrassment, simply too close to a television serial in a style which would become more prevalent as the small screen began to dominate the entertainment world and modest efforts such as this would struggle to stand out; Toye was no stranger to that medium either. Its association with Durbridge would have been the main selling point at the time, as it probably is now.
John Justin preferred the stage too, and while he comes across as rather lightweight here for someone who tread the boards reciting the Bard, he was a pleasant enough presence, though he would find his debut in cinema, The Thief of Bagdad, overshadowed his following movie roles ever after; Ken Russell took a liking to him in his later years, however. As for the actual mystery, we were stuck in that favourite device of the era, the spy story, with suspicions that Teckman did not in fact perish in the plane giving rise to a dose of espionage when those carrying the doubts tend to end up dead, one on the floor of Chance's posh city apartment, how about that for the height of inconvenience, never mind bad manners? All the while, he grows closer to Helen, played by another fixture of the British stage, Leighton, looking both whip smart and whip thin, if that wasn't enough to place concerns in your mind. Building to a mildly laughable denouement, The Teckman Mystery was fair as a time passer, especially if you liked vintage thrillers. Music by Clifton Parker.
[Network's British Film release has a gallery as an extra - don't look at this first, as it contains a huge spoiler. Print is neatly restored.]