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April 05, 2022



Val Guest - 1962
Cohen Film Collection BD Region A

It is on the commentary track with the BFI blu-ray of Expresso Bongo that Val Guest is asked about his favorites among his films. In that 2005 discussion, Jigsaw is at the top of the list. The choice is curious considering Guest's filmography. The film comes right after The Day the Earth Caught Fire, probably Guest's most serious film and the only one to get a BAFTA nomination, for the screenplay cowritten with Wolf Mankowitz. Two years earlier, Mankowitz received a solo nomination for what is probably Guest's best known film, the still influential Expresso Bongo (see Last Night in Soho and Absolute Beginners). At the time of its release, Jigsaw was lauded for being one of the best British police procedural films.

The source novel, Sleep Long, My Love is first of a series of novels of detective Fred Fellows, written by American author Hillary Waugh. The inspiration was an actual murder investigation that took place in Connecticut. Guest moved the film to Brighton and the surrounding area, a significant break from the London based genre films. The scene of the crime is an older house, one of the few in a rural area that is mostly a low rent trailer park. One first shot inside is of a table with both playing cards and tarot cards. A woman in her 30s has woken up and decides to wake the man sleeping with her. All that is seen of the man are partial images from the back. The woman tries to convince the man to make their relationship permanent and informs him that she is pregnant. We never see the face of the man, nor does he speak. The last image of the woman is of her mouth muffled by the man's hands, cut directly to a shot of a train with a shriek of a whistle.

The investigation is handled by Detective Jim Wilks with his uncle, the retirement age Fred Fellows. The jigsaw is the case where there seem to be no clues to the identities of the murderer or his victim. Where there seem to be clues lead initially to misdirection. The title could possibly refer to the state of the victim, with the implication that she was dismembered before her body was hidden in a trunk. We never see the victim, only the faces of the detectives when the body is discovered. Coming as it did after Psycho and Peeping Tom, Jigsaw may have been intended as being tasteful at a time when depictions of murder were becoming more graphic, but seems timid in retrospect.

The film came out during what may be considered Val Guest's peak creative period. Starting out with comedies and generally lighter fare, Guest's best films are the more serious works. Most of his films bear his name as writer or cowriter, taking as much of a direct hand in shaping films that were often assignments in a variety of genres. As in many of Guest's films, there is a role for his wife and muse, Yolande Donlan. Here, Ms. Donlan plays a would-be victim of the murderer who helps provide a break in the investigation. Guest's career went into a steep decline following the release of the 1967 version of Casino Royale with Guest directing the scenes with Woody Allen and given the job of making a cohesive film from the work of four other directors. The blu-ray of Jigsaw has no extras other than trailers. The film has been noted for providing a semi-documentary look at Brighton in the early 1960s. Val Guest's career may have uneven in quality, but is worth investigating as a writer/director who was more than a journeyman but not quite an auteur.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 5, 2022 07:47 AM