The Four Just Men (1939)
The Four Just Men is an absolute classic of British action-thriller writing. From the pen of Edgar Wallace, it was filmed twice (this being the second version) and made into a television series in the late 1950s. Wallace was one of those writers with an absolute thirst for his trade, writing vast numbers of crime novels, adventure stories, short stories, plays, screenplays and works of non-fiction. As Raymond Chandler reportedly put it, he was a writer who got up in the morning and wrote a novel before he had breakfast.
In many ways The Four Just Men is a remarkable book: the heroes of the story are four notorious foreign criminals who travel to Edwardian London in order to assassinate a British politician who has interfered in Spanish politics. It was surely ground-breaking that such characters, outwitting the British establishment at every turn, could be the heroes. Yet somehow Wallace got away with it.
For this film version, the heroes are three Englishmen, Humphrey Mansfield (Hugh Sinclair), James Brodie (Griffiths Jones) and James Terry (Frank Lawton) ..
and a Frenchman Leon Poiccard (Francis L. Sullivan):
|Francis L. Sullivan|
In keeping with the times, rather than a British politician interfering in foreign affairs as their target, this version sees the four just men hunting down the leadership of a foreign spy network aiming to start a war. The message is unstated but clear: the spy network represent Nazi Germany as being a threat. Just like the original book, the film conveys a subversive message, warning the British public of the dangers of fascist sympathisers lurking in the upper echelons of the corridors of power.
Light relief is provided by Anna Lee who plays a journalist who wants to track down the notoriously elusive title characters. Her introduction also provides a bit of wholesome glamour into a story with precious few female characters.
This being a spy thriller, I won't give away the ending, but I will say that it's an entertaining little film. Short but sweet, it remains - if not a propaganda film - a good example of how seriously some people were taking the threat of a 'Fifth Column' hiding within British society as Europe lurched towards war.
Also appearing are:
In the opening sequences you must look out for these scenes in a 'snow' filled central European courtyard:
The snow appears to be liquid, most likely created with some form of bubbling liquid detergent.
Currently available in Volume 2 of Network DVD's Ealing Rarities Collection: