Bookstore owner John Harman (George Brent) shares a brief kiss with his young blonde employee Ruby (Diana Dors), and when she tells her slimy ex-con boyfriend Jeff (Peter Reynolds) about that and how she accidentally tore her blouse on a file cabinet, Jeff sees a chance to blackmail her boss. The sudden death of John’s invalid wife sets off a chain of events that include Ruby getting murdered in the store and John becoming prime suspect. John’s wartime nurse turned loyal and devoted employee Stella (Marguerite Chapman), helps him try to clear his name, but further complicating matters is John’s assistant manager, the prim, strict and ambitious Clive (Raymond Huntley), who harbors an unrequited love for Stella. Clive too eagerly calls the police and takes over the store when there’s still just the thinnest circumstantial evidence against John.
It’s a simple plot that starts out shakily because you want to yell at John not to have that late night “work” session with the pouty vixen Ruby, who sets out to seduce him and then blabs all his financial and personal details to impress the jerk she caught shoplifting a rare book. Some dumb actions get the complications rolling, but they still come off as consistent from John, the overly kind, traumatized veteran and Ruby, the naive bad girl who doesn’t realize she’s dating a psycho. The slow build also fits the fine bookstore setting (and what a nice store it is) and does a good job setting up personalities so their motivations believably move the action later.
After the schemes and crimes stack up and start going wrong, the movie gets more interesting, and is raised above average by drawing on the network of pasts, jealousies and resentments at the store and the nightclub where Jeff hangs out. The plot follows these two tracks and makes smart, unpredictable turns that feel natural, even when they depend on bad luck and random chance. Jeff is a rude and petulant ladies’ man who treats all women as disposable, but he accidentally kills Ruby, and improvises a frame-up that calls back to The Last Page (the movie’s original title) of the best-selling mystery that Clive has been raving about. It’s satisfying to see him get robbed by his former flame and then watch her rat him out to the police. It’s just as fun to watch Stella talk a bitter Clive into helping John find key evidence at the store. It all ends with John’s heroics during a fire–director Terence Fisher ended quite a few films that way.
The pedigree on this one is good; Fisher directed from a script adapted by Frederick Knott (Dial M for Murder, Wait Until Dark), from the play The Last Page by James Hadley Chase (No Orchids for Miss Blandish). This was the first of the Hammer-Lippert partnership that produced several crime movies featuring American actors through the 1950s.