In this 1935 ‘quota quickie’ from Twickenham Films, politician Nick Trent’s campaign is threatened when the local landowner he was arguing with is found dead. The only people who can clear his name are his rival’s wife and her lover, Nick’s brother, who hit and killed the man with his car. Though the coroner records a verdict of accidental death, Trent starts receiving threats written on playing cards, demanding that he pulls out of the election. Can he get to the bottom of the mystery without being implicated in the death of the man who stood in the way of his promise of a new railway for the townsfolk?
If all this sounds like House of Cards written by Dorothy L Sayers, then be prepared for disappointment. Made the same year as Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, The Ace of Spades feels closer to some of the great man’s missteps of a few years before (notably Murder!) with some very stagey acting and misjudged comedy. Director George Pearson’s one attempt at visual flair- a shot through a balloon at a village fete- is quite Hitchcockian, though early flashes of wit (‘I think I may consult either a mind reader or a palmist’/ ‘Go to a palmist: you’ve got one of those’) are eschewed in favour of a laboured riff on politicians kissing babies. A ‘comedy’ fight between ‘salt of the earth’ locals starts when one of them forces himself on Trent’s love interest, Nita. Imagine trying to pitch that now…
This is a real shame, because there are good ideas here- Nick argues with Lord Yardley, hits him, regrets it, returns to the card game and writes a note confessing all on the titular playing card. Yardley, meanwhile, staggers outside and is hit by Harry Trent’s car, which speeds away for fear of discovery. The card players head outside to see what’s happened and Trent’s message is intercepted, leaving three key characters compromised. It’s a neat sequence of events let down in the execution, the story flatly told in static one- and two-shots. The Ace of Spades is only an hour long but feels longer. It doesn’t help that a lot of the cast look very similar: Nick’s aide Tony resembles his rival, George Despard, and Nita and sister Evelyn, who hates Nick, also look alike (great casting!), which confuses things when the attention starts to wander.
Anyway, Nick wins the election, Evelyn wrote the notes on the cards, the adulterers come clean and there’s a terribly British ‘sorry-old-man-for-boffing-your-wife’ moment. Then it just ends.
Win some, lose some, it’s all the same to them, clearly.