When artist’s model Stella Smith is murdered, suspicion quickly falls on her fiancé Clayton Hawks, a painter on the verge of success whose talent is undermined by his drinking and occasional blackouts. Smith and Hawks had argued publicly on the night of her murder, and soon Inspector West is left to unpick the petty jealousies of the close-knit world of artists and models, while Hawks, sculptress Theodora ‘Theo’ Castle and model Hazel Carr undertake their own quest to prove Hawks’ innocence. But who among them has something to hide?
Given that it would have been shown as a second feature, The Night Won’t Talk boasts an intelligent, witty script and some great acting. It’s particularly interesting to see Ballard Berkeley, Fawlty Towers’ Major Gowen, in his youthful pomp and in a straight role, as Inspector West (incidentally, this isn’t a John Creasey adaptation, just a coincidence!). West is a dogged investigator and firm but fair establishment type, aided by his doughty pipe-smoking sidekick Robbins, played by Duncan Lamont, a man with a pedigree in playing doughty types, with or without pipe. The cast is full of recognisable character actors, including John Bailey as Clay Hawks, and B-movie stalwart Hyacinth ‘Hy’ Hazell as Theo Castle.
The Night Won’t Talk isn’t only a cracking little film: it’s both a wonderful time capsule and a refreshing portrait (no pun intended) of its era. Set amidst the bedsits and pubs of pre-gentrification West London, in a creative community without a hipster on a child’s scooter in sight, the film daringly (for 1952) treats its gay characters and sex before marriage very matter-of-factly. When West tackles Hawks’ rival artist Kenneth Wells about ‘being a bachelor’, Wells doesn’t deny the implications, although we later see him try it on with Hazel Carr. Compare that with some of the sub-John Inman turns in the crime series of the ‘more liberal’ 1960s and 70s, or indeed anything starring John Inman.
Weighing in at only 57 minutes, The Night Won’t Talk doesn’t outstay its welcome. It manages to cram a lot into that short running time without feeling rushed, thanks to a well-paced script by Gilbert Vinter and measured direction by Daniel Birt. The ‘big reveal’ is well handled and the closing shots of working boats on the Thames, set against the backdrop of Docklands in its working prime, are worth the price of admission alone.