Philip Chance, novelist, has been obliged to leave his comfortable existence in the south of France for a meeting with his publisher who wishes his next project to be a biography of the test pilot Martin Teckman, killed in a crash the previous summer; as fate would have it, on the aeroplane to London the seat next to him is occupied by Teckman’s sister, Helen, the first of many coincidences and grim surprises.
Arriving at his city pied-à-terre he finds it ransacked and in the mess is the oddly specific clue of an RAF button tied to Teckman’s squadron; the second writer approached to undertake the biography, Chance ascertains that his predecessor was incapacitated in a serious accident, and Chance’s own first contact, the engineer who designed the ill-fated F-109, is murdered only hours after the interview, his body found in Chance’s flat.
The Teckman Mystery released in late 1954 and now restored by StudioCanal as part of their Vintage Classics range, it was written by Francis Durbridge and James Matthews and directed by Wendy Toye, one of the few prominent women directors of the era, starring John Justin as Philip Chance, Margaret Leighton as Helen Teckman and Roland Culver and Duncan Lamont as the two investigating officers, Inspectors Harris and Hilton, tight-lipped and unflappable.
Set in the well-to-do districts of London, Belgravia and the Tower of London captured in crisp monochrome by Jack Hildyard, The Teckman Mystery is a web of deception, deceit and false leads which rushes rather than builds, repeated attempts to dissuade Chance from looking deeper into details of the crash only making him more interested, the opportunity to spend more time with Helen not an insignificant factor in his decision.
Frustratingly, for a writer Chance has very little imagination, repeatedly failing to question motivations and accepting statements at face value, and the script withholds pertinent information should have been made clear immediately, the crash having occurred on foreign soil, the precise location as vague as the identity of the “subversive group” involved in the coverup – Communists? Fascists? Anarchists? A splinter of the British Scone Bakers whose insistence on cream before jam has caused them to become radicalised?
Released in tandem with We Joined the Navy of 1962, The Teckman Mystery carries the first of a two-part documentary, The Extraordinary Career of Wendy Toye, along with two of the director’s short films, The Stranger Left No Card of 1952, a prize winner at Cannes, and the seasonally flavoured On the Twelfth Day… of 1955.
The Teckman Mystery will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from StudioCanal from Monday 21st November