Fast-paced murder mystery with plenty of snappy dialogue. Patricia Farr, as Reginald Denny’s assistant Ella, really steals the show with wall-to-wall sarcasm.
A bunch of suspects, each with a tangible motive, surround Albert Sayre’s (John Murray’s) murder: his wife, daughter, son-in-law, and assorted business associates. The plot teasingly points to one, then another of them as the murderer. In a rather formal expose, Keith (Denny) leads, through cunning deduction, to the actual culprit. This drawn-out Sherlock Holmes bit has its own convoluted drama.
Some of the characters are slightly nutty, but that works out well because Keith and Ella are by far the most eccentric. Though intricate, the plot makes sense. What doesn’t work so well are some of the characters’ relationships.
The Inspector treats Keith as a colleague, if not his superior. I could buy some easy familiarity between the police and a well-regarded private eye, but Keith’s role is so inflated that the Inspector really has nothing to do.
Others here have dwelt on the disgusting way that Keith treats Ella. The fact that his more than verbally abusive behavior wouldn’t raise as much of a concern eighty years ago is beside the point. It’s so relentless (he calls her “stupid” about a dozen times) that it undercuts the clever camaraderie that’s obviously the focus between these main characters.
Why would she want to work for such a jerk? With some milder put-downs the relationship would lose nothing, and seem more believable. Likewise, it would be better if the Inspector took charge, or at least asserted himself more with Keith.
As it is, The Lady In Scarlet gives us an entertaining mystery with a ton of one-liners. 6/10.