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Sunday, July 17, 2016


1952 Film adaptation of E.C.Bentley's 1913 crime novel "Trent's Last Case."
Editor’s note: Anyone who finishes reading E.C. Bentley’s “Trent’s Last Case” without skipping pages deserves high honors.  That statement, however, is not meant to discourage reading one of the earliest whodunits of the 20th century.

As perhaps can be expected from a 1913 detective novel, the language and pace of plot is akin to Sherlock Holmes with one notable exception.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes is the perfect detective.  Bentley’s Philip Trent is flawed, over wordy and blames the wrong character(s) in the course of his two investigations of the same case.  But this can be forgiven as Bentley’s hero is a journalist first and a detective second. 

E.C. Bentley, a charcoal sketch by
Hugh Godwin Riviere, 1915
Also, the first part of “Trent’s Last Case” is wading barefoot through a bog and only picks up toward the end.  The clues et al fall into place and what deserves suspension of disbelief is the hero ends up marrying the woman he early on mistakenly accuses of adultery and accessory to murder.  Aside from that it has a happy ending.

Copies of E.C. Bentley’s can be found online on Strand magazine’s online books:

In 1952, Trent’s Last Case was made into a film, which was directed by Herbert Wilcox and starred Michael Wilding, Margaret Lockwood and Orson Welles.  It can be found on YouTube:

The following “brief” synopsis of the film “Trent’s Last Case” is only a few words short of the original novel (we tease).  It was written before spoiler alerts notices became in vogue.

Convenient pose for 1952 British movie still for "Trent's Last Case" showing Michael Wilding (left) as Philip Trent; Margaret Lockwood as Margaret (nee Mabel) Manderson and Orson Welles as American Tycoon Sigbee Manderson.
In the novel, this pose would not have been possible as Sigbee was dead before our hero Trent arrives hat in hand to solve the crime.
GUEST BLOG—Synopsis by Turner Classic Movies--In England, Chicago industrialist Sigsbee Manderson is found in his Hampshire estate garden, shot in the head. While news of the conniving financier's death creates havoc on the international stock market, it appears that Inspector Murch of Scotland Yard has a murder case to solve.

At the inquest, Manderson's wife Margaret (nee Mabel in the book of the same title by E.C. Bentley, 1913) testifies that the dead man had recently seemed depressed. Also testifying to Manderson's moody behavior is his private secretary, John Marlowe, who says that late on the evening of his death, Manderson wanted to be dropped off at the ninth hole of a nearby golf course, then had Marlowe travel out of town to meet a man who failed to show up.

During the proceedings, many troubling details are brought out, including how the butler Martin had seen Manderson in his robe at 10:30 p.m. talking on the phone, but his body was fully clothed when found. Despite an indiscreet employee's insinuations that Marlowe and Margaret were having an affair, the inquest jury, knowing that Manderson's prints were on the gun that shot him at close range, concludes that his death was a suicide.

However, the testimonies seem incomplete to Philip Trent, a well-known amateur detective and artist who is following the story for a national newspaper, and his editor permits him to continue investigating. By intruding into the Manderson household, Trent manages to interview those closest to the dead man and senses that Margaret and Marlowe are withholding information.

While checking out the golf course, Trent encounters an old newspaper crony, retired art critic and Margaret's uncle Burton Cupples, who was out for a walk at 10:15 p.m. on the night of Manderson's death and saw him at the ninth hole. After laying out all the facts, Trent concludes that Martin saw Manderson alive after the time of his supposed death. When Trent's investigation becomes too disturbing to Margaret, she sends Cupples to ask Trent to desist.

Certain that Manderson's death was not suicide, Trent writes his dispatch, naming Marlowe as the murderer, but asks Margaret to decide whether to send it to his editor. Trent, now attracted to Margaret, waits for her decision for six weeks in seclusion at his home, painting her portrait while wondering if she is an accomplice to murder.

At a Covent Garden musical performance, Trent approaches her, and grateful that he suppressed the story, she tells him what she knows: A week before he died, Manderson's business obligations prevented him from attending a concert, so he asked Marlowe to accompany her. Upon returning home, Marlowe, who Margaret discovered was in love with her, forgot himself and kissed her.

Although he regained his composure immediately, Margaret realized that Manderson saw them and is convinced that is the reason he killed himself. However, having heard the story, Trent feels even more certain that Marlowe murdered Manderson, and with her permission, Trent and Cupples meet Marlowe at the estate.

John Marlowe's dash from the murder scene to Southhampton
Trent tells Marlowe and Cupples his theory that Manderson was murdered at the golf course and moved to the garden. Marlowe, after admitting his love for Margaret, relates the following story: After dinner on the night of his death, Manderson calls him and Margaret to the library to torment them with insinuations of betrayal.

Marlowe's car in 1952 film version being driven back to the scene of the crime
Then, Manderson orders Marlowe to travel to Paris immediately, using an assumed name, to deliver an envelope and insists that he pack his gun. However, before Marlowe leaves, Manderson asks to be driven to the golf course, where he takes the gun and gets out at the ninth hole. Marlowe drives away, but troubled by Manderson's crazed and victorious look, stops to examine the contents of the envelope. Seeing that it contains diamonds and a thousand pounds, Manderson guesses that he is being framed for robbery.

The sound of a fired gun prompts Marlowe to return to the ninth hole, where he finds Manderson dead. Because he was the last to see Manderson alive, he fears he will be suspected of murder, so working quickly, he moves the body to the garden.

Then, Marlowe sneaks into Manderson's bedroom, dons his robe, and calls for the man's ritual nightcap. When Martin delivers it, Marlowe, an amateur actor skilled in impersonations, keeps his back turned and pretends to be Manderson talking on the telephone, causing Martin to believe that he is Manderson.

When Marlowe concludes his story, Trent is satisfied that it is the truth, and Trent and Cupples later relate it to the relieved Margaret. However, to the surprise of Trent and Margaret, Cupples also has a confession. On the golf course that night, Cupples says, he tried to stop Manderson from killing himself, but accidentally shot Manderson in the struggle to get the gun away.

As he had publicly quarreled with Manderson earlier that day, Cupples feared he would be suspected of murder, so decided to remain quiet, unless someone was accused. As Manderson's intention was to commit suicide, Trent sees no reason to reopen the case. With Cupples' blessing, Trent and Margaret decide to marry.

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