Monday, 11 April 2011

Trent's Last Case

Trent’s Last Case, by E.C. Bentley, is properly regarded as one of the landmark books in the history of crime fiction. The first two film versions left Bentley unimpressed, but the third, shot in 1952, was better and I’ve just watched a DVD of the movie that I received as a welcome Christmas present.

The stars were Michael Wilding (one of Elizabeth Taylor’s many husbands), Margaret Lockwood (whose many other films include that classic The Lady Vanishes), Orson Welles, no less, as Sigsbee Manderson, and Miles Malleson, who had a rather more important role than usual in his prolific career.

I thought it was a decent film. Famously, whodunits are tricky to film; you can understand why Hitchcock generally favoured suspense rather than a heavily plotted mystery. But this one remains perfectly watchable.

The book was greatly admired by Sayers and Christie, among others, and it was a formative influence on their writing careers. Sayers later became a good friend of ‘Jack’ Bentley, so much so that she even rhapsodised over the belated follow-up, Trent’s Own Case, though in truth it was a relatively minor work. Bentley never came close to surpassing his debut novel.


vegetableduck said...

Sayers once wrote of Trent's Last Case that

it was the work of an educated man, with the whole tradition of European letters behind him, who was not ashamed to lay his gifts of culture at the feet of that Cinderella of literature, the mystery novel.

Whew! such rhapsody!

I'm sure Lord Peter's habit of flippant poetic epigramming owes much to Trent:

"How are you, my best of friends? And why are you here? Why sit'st thou by that ruined breakfast? Does thou its former pride recall, or ponder how it passed away?"

Cute, but is it really the product of "the whole tradition of European letters"?

John said...

Is this DVD available only in UK Region format? Probably. I'd love to find a copy of it over here.

Great book. One of these days I'm writing a blog post on the outrageous coincidences in Bentley's book and one by Arthur J. Rees called The Shrieking Pit It's almost as if Rees plagiarized Bentley. Rees' book was published only six years after Bentley's. The similarities in plot and character are numerous and, to me at least, unreal.

Sue said...

I was interested in your comment about whodunnits being difficult to film ... you're right. I'm trying to think of a good whodunnit film. I have seen "The Lady vanishes" (both versions) and enjoyed them, but if I could choose to watch any film right now it would be North by Northwest- suspense and Alfred Hitchcock!


Martin Edwards said...

Good question, Curt!
John, I think it is Europe only. Yes, I'd like to hear more about Rees!
Sue, Green for Danger is one good whodunit film.