Directed by Wendy Toye and written by Francis Durbridge and James Matthews, a biographer researching a book on a pilot who died during the test flight of a new plane falls in love with the pilot’s sister. As he uncovers more about the test flight, people connected with the case begin to die. Starring: Margaret Leighton, John Justin, Meier Tzelniker, Michael Medwin, Roland Culver, George Coulouris, Jane Wenham and Duncan Lamont.
One thing that’s immediately apparent with The Teckman Mystery is the fantastic restoration work. You’re hit with the superb texture and richness to the visual, there’s a sincerely impressive amount of detail to the image. Which in turn is doing a great service to the direction from Wendy Toye, a name you may not be familiar with and that’s a shame as any woman who could get a studio to let her direct in the 1950s, is a name film fans should know. As well as the fact that this is an extremely well put together noir-styled mystery. It starts off slow, deepening the curiosity and consequences as time goes on, leaving it with a great pace. A nicely building tension works away in the background, while the foreground has a fairly easy-going atmosphere, it’s an interesting blend that works well. There are also some very classic London locations which are always fun to watch.
An interesting aspect, which applies to many classic films, is how leading men often got a lot more credit for intelligence than they deserved. Philip Chance (John Justin) is a great example of that, he’s put forth as a talented writer and with his wealth and affluence comes that implication of intelligence but he’s actually not the sharpest tool. Which is exactly why this story works because it allows the progression to bring up different questions and not speed through to the answers. It moves step by step, revealing its pieces until the puzzle is complete. It’s not overly complicated and it’s not completely transparent, it runs a nice line of being simple enough without ever losing your attention. That may sound like a bit of a boring explanation of what is actually an entertaining film, but it’s a balance that a lot of mystery or thriller films get wrong, so it’s really worth acknowledging when someone gets it right.
John Justin brings a classic air of confidence as Philip, he rolls with the punches, has a weakness for pretty women and gets himself wrapped up in a conspiracy which is way above his paygrade. It’s a perfect combination which is used plentifully throughout film history and is still being used now. Justin’s a really enjoyable actor to watch, he has that stereotypically British persona and a certain levity to him which keeps the film in a fun arena rather than becoming complex. Margaret Leighton is a very underrated actress and you’d only have to watch The Teckman Mystery to know it. Leighton brings a charm, wit and intelligence to Helen which is satisfying to watch unfold. There’s then a great ensemble behind them, the variety of characters gives the film a lot of personality and energy.
The Teckman Mystery is a fun and twisty mystery, taking tips from noir but keeping a lighter, easy-going atmosphere. It has a strong cast who bring a charming energy and a captivating tangle of secrets. The story moves with a great pacing, it’s slow to begin with but builds tension as time goes on, expanding the mystery while avoiding becoming convoluted. Wendy Toye’s direction captures that charm, along with a curiosity and creates a style which dips its toes into noir but focuses on entertainment.