Wednesday 28 March 2018

Death is a Woman - 1966 locked room mystery film review

Death is a Woman is spy film with a glamorous Mediterranean setting, a starring role for Wanda Ventham (mother of Benedict Cumberbatch), and a plot involving a locked room mystery. It's very much a product of the Swinging Sixties, with a soundtrack written by John Shakespeare, aka John Carter, who wrote (and performed) several hit songs. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, quite a lot, actually. This is a film I really wanted to like, but in the end I had to admit defeat. It's like a poor man's version of James Bond or The Saint, minus Connery and Moore. The script was written by Wally Bosco, who as Wallace Bosco had begun an acting career way back in 1919; he was also a prolific writer, but he was in his 80s when this film was made. I'm afraid he and his colleagues who worked on the film lost the plot.

Right from the film's melodramatic opening, when a villainous couple murder a confederate, under the prying eyes of a blackmailer, the script is hard to take seriously. The quality of the acting doesn't help. The villainess of the piece is played by former pop star Trisha Noble, who divides her time between wearing a bikini and killing people, sometimes multi-tasking by doing both at the same time. She's pursued by an undercover agent, listlessly played by Mark Burns. Wanda Ventham assists him, and she too spends plenty of time in her bikini. Anita Harris, then at the height of her fame as a pop star, sings a song but otherwise contributes nothing, and the background music is irritating; Carter was no John Barry.

The best bit of acting comes from Blake Butler, a character actor of the era, who does a pleasing job as a lift attendant who accuses Burns of the locked room murder (of which he's innocent, of course). Alas, the detection and explanation of the crime is hardly in the John Dickson Carr class. It's all a bit of a mess. Worth watching mainly to remind yourself that it wasn't all Bond and The Ipcress File in the Sixties. At least the shots of Malta are nice.

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