Note: Twitter followers @radiodetectives voted this as the movie I’d review this week rather than Whodunit.
In 1951, the Australian radio company Grace Gibson released the first audio drama series featuring Major Gregory Keen, of MI-5. Series creator Lindsay Hardy turned this into a book, “Requiem for a Redhead,” which became a basis for the British movie, “Assignment: Redhead.” (aka Million Dollar Manhunt.)
The basic plot is the same as in the radio drama. A criminal mastermind known as Dumetrius kills a Colonel and takes his place on a flight from Germany to London. On the flight is a U.S. serviceman who takes a picture of Dumetrius. With the help of Hedy Bergner (Carole Matthews), a singer who is a secretly a spy for him, Dumetrius has the serviceman killed and a British Airman named Peter Ridgeway is framed for the crime. Keen (Richard Denning) steps in to locate Dumetrius and hunts for Ridgeway when he escapes.
The movie has some solid points. The original 104-part serial had a lot of repetition and the movie cut a lot of the fat. One thing I like is that we don’t get to see Keen acting like a fool in his being in love with Heddy Bergner and blind to the fact she’ s working for Dumetrius for more than 16 hours as in the radio drama. The plot remains interesting and engaging with some great elements still included. Richard Denning (star of Michael Shayne and Mr. and Mrs. North) turns in a good performance.
Yet, the movie is nowhere near as good as the radio drama overall. The film is low budget and it shows. With a Film Noir, a low budget feel can work, but a spy film needs a bit more room in the budget. The seventy-six minute run time cuts some of the more annoying elements of the radio serial, but it also eliminates a lot of the good stuff, including many complicated relationship dynamics. We don’t get to see Heddy’s growth as a character or her conflict as we do in the radio serial. Instead, her change towards the end of the story is abrupt. In addition, because Keen is an American in this version and his aide Sergeant Coutts is a Brit, there’s not some of the shared backstory and Coutts’ tireless loyalty which was such a great highlight of the radio drama. Key sequences from late in the story are cut or compressed. Even if I hadn’t heard the radio serial, I’d know something was missing. Weirdly, the initial set up is kept mostly intact. The acting is as spotty as you’d expect from a low-budget film.
Overall, this isn’t a horrible movie, but it’s tough to offer a general recommendation. If you’ve heard the radio series, then it’s worth checking out for the curiosity’s sake. If you’ve thought about listening to the radio serial, and want to check out the movie first, I’d recommend listening to the radio drama first. It’s far better than what was put out on the screen.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5