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Inspector Hornleigh (1939)
Warning: The full synopsis contains "spoilers" which describe key plot points. If you don't want to know the plot and outcome of this film then please don't read any further.

Bags Within Bags

Hornleigh at The Pheasant InnBegins with an unidentified murderer leaving the scene of the crime which is soon to be discovered by the deceased's (James Hendry) landlady. The murder is reported to Scotland Yard where we first meet Alastair as Sergeant Bingham. Bingham informs the reporting policeman on the telephone that Hornleigh is on a very important case looking for a "dull read indian with a pointed bust"; this turns out to be a stamp. This eventually leads to an element of farce with Alastair having to interrupt Hornleigh in the middle of bidding for a stamp at auction.

Alastair plays an enthusiastic but naive Sergeant reporting to Harker's astute but deadpan Inspector Hornleigh (very similar to the relationship between Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson and Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes - incorrect deductions, general ineptitude, etc). There is a bag and a bust of Hercules missing from Hendry's room although a substantial amount of money has been left on the deceased. Sergeant Bingham inadvertently finds the items whilst dredging the local lake and the murder weapon (a leather worker's knife) and Chancellor of the Exchequer budget case. The unusual knife prompts Hornleigh to quip that the leather worker must have liked working with unusual implements rather like Hornleigh chooses to work with Bingham (see Memorable Quotes 1 ).

The Pheasant Inn

Bingham Reconstructs the CrimeHornleigh deduces that the case must have had the budget documents in it and the budget is dues to take place in several days time. Hornleigh calls upon the Chancellor late in the evening to return the case. However, it is discovered that the Chancellor still has his own case. The cases become confused. The Chancellor claims the one with the tea stain which he had created himself that very day at a place called the Pheasant Inn. Hornleigh deduces that a switch had been made at the Inn and that the Chancellor had been in possession of the duplicate when he had spilt the tea on it. Therefore someone is in possession of the budget secrets. Peter Dench, the Chancellor's Private Secretary, offers to escort Hornleigh to the Inn. Anyone with a knowledge of finance could make an enormous fortune by having access to the budget secrets.

Peter Dench is then seen making a private call to the beautiful Miss Anne Gordon the owner of the Pheasant Inn and warning her that the police are about to make a visit. Hornleigh discovers him on the phone and Dench attempts to deceive him by pretending he is canceling a card game evening. Hornleigh sardonically declares: "I wonder what game he plays sir - Rummy?". Suspicion falls on Dench at this point.

At the Pheasant Inn there are a number of small scenes. Miss Gordon is seen asks her brother Bill Gordon if he has been in any trouble lately and indicates that this appears to be a regular thing; this now throws suspicion on Gordon. We are also introduced to Mr.Wittens, the experienced manager, who helps Miss Gordon run the Inn.

Inspector Hornleigh reconstructs the scene of the crime (i.e. the theft of the case) and deduces that the bag was switched as the Chancellor had entered the Inn and removed his coat. This Chancellor would have handed his bag to the porter who, as it turns out, was Mr Hendry, the murder victim at the start of the film. Mr Witten's is discovered in Hendry's room by Hornleigh, behaving suspiciously (placing suspicion on yet another character). Bingham meanwhile is shown trying to reconstruct the theft of the case as he sees it. Alastair, as Bingham, seems always to be accompanied by comic music. He is nearly scared out of his wits by a Mr. Holt as he pulls back the curtains of the dining room.

Hornleigh begins the interrogation of suspects, beginning with Bill Gordon, then Witten. Witten confesses to dropping off Hendry (the murder victim) in town. Hornleigh reconstructs Hendry's swap of the bag to all present at the Inn. Hornleigh however states that Hendry was incapable of conceiving this theft on his own and that he must have been guided by a mastermind - a man of education who could organise and plan every detail. Hornleigh leaves and asks Bingham to take the murder weapon back to Scotland Yard for fingerprinting.

Bingham Attacked

Sergeant Bingham on London's Shadowy BackstreetsThe very next scene discovers Bingham beside the broken-down police vehicle. In spite of the police driver insisting that he had earlier filled-up the car with petrol, they discover that the petrol tank is empty and they are left stranded in the dark and insalubrious back streets of London. Bingham decides to walk through London to find assistance and to have some fuel forwarded to the stranded car and driver - in spite of the driver warning him that it could be dangerous with the Exchequer case. The empty evening streets of London now echo to Bingham's footsteps and there are a few deliberate scares which turn out to be nothing more than cat's knocking over milk bottles, drifting newspapers, etc. We are privileged to witness one of Alastair's trade mark acting traits when, on hearing a noise, he suddenly revolves leaving his long overcoat flying outwards. Bingham is then rather savagely coshed from behind and relieved of the case containing the duplicate Exchequers bag. On recovering his wits he spies a button on the cobbles which could well be a clue.

A Bald-Headed Bunch of Haggis

Hornleigh nobly takes the blame from the chief Superintendent for Bingham's incompetence. Hornleigh berates Bingham privately and launches a tirade of racist abuse at his Scottish assistant (see A Bald-Headed HaggisMemorable Quotes 3). This is actually good-natured fun but would not be looked upon too kindly in today's politically correct world. One also wonders how Alastair, a Scot playing a Scot would have perceived this abusive dialogue. To compound the matter, the Chief Superintendent, then berates Hornleigh for trusting a "simple Scot" to carry out the task (see Memorable Quotes 4 ).

Death of a Leather Maker

At the Leather MakersHornleigh is visited at Scotland yard by Witten who "hardly likes to tell him" (but does anyway) that Peter Dench had visited him several weeks ago asking if he knew where he could get the budget bag repaired. Witten goes on to inform Hornleigh of the exact leather maker he recomended to Dench. The next scene sees Bill Gordon visiting the same leather maker's shop and engaging in a somewhat mysterious conversation which on first glance seems to implicate them both in Hendry's murder. As he leaves the leather maker then calls Scotland Yard but someone quickly enters the shop and intercepts the call. Hornleigh and Bingham visit Peter Dench and then take him onwards to visit the leather maker's shop where they discover Parkinson's dead body. On searching his body they discover a large amount (�200) of ten pound notes (which in those days were extremely scarce and considered to be easily traceable). Bingham traces the notes to a Mr. Michael Kavanos.

Prussic Acid

As Hornleigh and Bingham arrive at Kavanos's home we discover Bill Gordon engaged in a surreptitious conversation with Kavanos; as they enter he hides in the back room. Hornleigh reveals that they have traced the notes back to him from Parkinson and also states that they have been strangely torn in half.

On Hornleigh's departure Gordon threatens Kavanos to give him some more money so that he can make a getaway of sorts. As Gordon leaves, Kavanos throws a large amount of torn �10 notes into the fire. We next see Bill Gordon packing to flee and Dench enters his room. Dench reveals that he discovered Gordon's cigarette lighter on the leather maker's desk when he visited with Hornleigh. Dench believes that Gordon is corrupt but does not believe he is capable of murder and therefore hands the lighter back to him.

Gordon is then visited by Kavanos (in his room at the hotel) to encourage him to flee quickly. Gordon states that there were four of them in the deal (to steal the exchequer secrets) when it started - Hendry, Parkinson, Gordon and Kavanos. Two are now dead. Gordon implies that it must be Kavanos who murdered the two men and who planted the cigarette lighter to implicate Gordon. Kavanos, however, suggests that Dench is the culprit. Bill Gordon then notices something about the lighter which makes him believe that by asking a simple question he can identify the man who has been trying to frame him. Prussic AcidHe realises that he wants to speak to Hornleigh. Drinks are then brought in by the Alfred Cooper the porter. Not so long afterwards Gordon is found dead by his sister. Kavanos is seen leaving the hotel but returns to retrieve his handkerchief. He moves threateningly towards Ann Gordon but she screams, alerting Hornleigh and the police. Hornleigh deduces that Bill Gordon has been killed by Prussic Acid in his drink and also retrieves the cigarette lighter. Miss Gordon, on recovering consciousness, implicates Kavanos who has been detained by the police.

All Will Out

Kavanos is now in hot water and "spills the beans" to Hornleigh. It appears that Bill Gordon owed him money and promised to obtain the budget information in exchange for his debts. Kavanos gave Gordon �200 to have the duplicate bag made but couldn't trust him so he tore the notes in half and would only give him the second halves on receiving the required information.

Much of the evidence now starts to point towards Mr. Witten who mixed the drinks, did not have an alibi for when Parkinson (the leather maker) was killed and could also have drained the petrol (as the Inn had its own petrol pump arrangement) from Bingham's car to make him break down and retrieve the bag. Witten cleverly replies that all Hornleigh has said could equally apply to Mr. Dench, Alfred Cooper (the porter) or even Mr. Holt (the hotel guest who had previously scared Bingham. Hornleigh, however, knows that Mr. Holt is in fact Keyhole Charlie, a private investigator, who has been sent to the hotel by Kavanos to keep an eye on Bill Gordon and ensure he is not double-crossed.

Hornleigh now quickly turns from Witten and accuses Alfred Cooper. Everything he had said about Witten equally applied to Alfred - as the only man who could have committed all three murders. He had not been in the original syndicate but had seen Hendry swap the duplicate bag and thought he could benefit from the situation himself. He murders Hendry, murders Parkinson (when he believes Parkinson may tell Hornleigh that he had given Alfred Cooper the leather knife) and, finally, murders Dench when he believes that Dench is about to tell Hornleigh the secret behind the lighter. Cooper betrays himself by stating that any one of the other suspects could have put poison in the brandy; however, Hornleigh has not yet revealed what killed Dench. When Hornleigh explains the implicating evidence behind the cigarette lighter, Cooper finally breaks down and pulls out a hand grenade which he had saved from the troubles in Ireland. A touch of quick thinking by Bingham distracts Cooper and they are able to overpower him. Bingham hurls the grenade out of the window only to destroy the police car.

Hornleigh: Likes to work with something odd I suppose, like me choosing you as an assistant.

Sergeant Bingham

Chancellor: But it seems incredible to me that anybody should be allowed to rob the Chancellor of the Exchequer with impunity.
Hornleigh: Quite so sir, Generally the other way round.

Hornleigh: You pestiferous, elongated, flat-footed, bald-headed bunch of haggis Why didn't you stay on your own neck of heath, tossing the sporran and working your tom-toms instead of unloading yourself on the long-suffering English.

Chief Superintendent : You've been long enough in the force Hornleigh to know that if you want anything done you must do it yourself and not leave it to a simple Scot.