Jack Warner was 67 when he made Jigsaw (1962) with director Val Guest, who also wrote the screenplay. Based on the American novel ‘Sleep Long, My Love‘ by Hillary Waugh, it’s not all talk, but when the dialogue sparks up it can be rapid and choreographed to such an extent that the exchanges overlap and dovetail into each other, a trait seen more in American films. The police investigation is detailed and nuanced, so missing a section of rapid fire verbal exchange is something to be wary of. In other words, don’t take chances, pause it if you need a wee.
The crime around which the action takes place occurs in an oddly isolated house overlooked by a caravan park. The idea for the plot came from a true life crime. In 1924 Patrick Mahon murdered his pregnant lover Emily Kaye near Eastbourne, dismembered and hid her body in a locked bedroom in a rented bungalow. He spent the Easter weekend there with another woman who was quite unaware that her predecessor’s remains lay in pieces in the room next door.
Detective Inspector Fred Fellows (Warner) and Detective Sergeant Jim Wilkes (Ronald Lewis) drive round early 60’s Brighton in a Ford Consul managing to make the town look like it oozes crime and seediness. They pick up pieces here and there to complete the jigsaw, discard them, pick new ones up, go back to the old ones again and gradually get the straight edges in place so the rest can be filled in.
Fellows parks the police car outside a grocer’s shop to question the proprietor:
Fellows: Peck? I’m Detective Inspector Fellows
Mr Peck: Oh, are you? Well let me tell you, I don’t like this at all. You’ll get me a bad name with that stigma parked out there.
Guest began his career as an actor, then a writer, and the screenplay reflects this by allowing characters to become fully formed and fleshed out in seconds because of seemingly throw away lines, maybe lines that a lesser director may deem irrelevant. This leaves the impression of a town inhabited by individuals with lives and thoughts outside the murder investigation. In other words they aren’t just there to advance the plot with a bit of exposition or a grain of evidence, instead they are given reasons for existing.
In a gem of a scene Fellows and Wilks think they’ve identified the dead woman and they arrive at her place in Greenwich, right alongside the Cutty Sark, and are surprised to find her very much alive. Fellows uses her phone and explains in his loud Dixon of Dock Green voice to the copper on the other end that the dismembered corpse is not Jean Sherman (Yolande Donlan) after all. It dawns on her just how close she came to being dead meat, and how the man she thought was a charming lover was a calculating psychopath.
Jigsaw is universally well thought of, and for good reason. The acting is exemplary, it is directed with skillful attention to detail and Arthur Grant‘s cinematography is clean and economical. Just to reiterate, it’s a cracking film. Watch it and see if you can guess who the killer is. Award yourself a stick of Brighton rock if you can put the last bit of this 1000 piece puzzle in place before the boys in blue.
Not one for the Brighton Tourist Board.