Colonel March of Scotland Yard

The Complete 26 Episode Series

Film Chest Media Group all-region DVD $19.98
B&W / 4:3 / SDH

Well, this WAS a pleasant surprise; Karloff fans that we are here in the Balcony, we’ve never before found a watchable copy of Boris Karloff’s British 1954-1955 TV mystery series, based on stories by legendary writer John Dickson Carr, writing as “Carter Dickson” and giving us an affable sleuth with a taste for bizarre mysteries, so much so that he heads up (and in fact, appears to be the only member of the team), the Yard’s Department of Queer Complaints. Karloff’s eyepatched Colonel (no explanation given; one assumes it was a war injury) spars with talented Ewan Roberts as Inspector Ames, who prefers his mysteries less queer, to say the least and is joined throughout the sadly short run of the series by a bevy of talented guest stars. The majority of the stories are locked room mysteries (how did it happen?) with an occasional monkey wrench thrown in (and in one episode, an actual monkey).

The initial telecast episode, The Sorcerer (not to be confused with the later Karloff picture The Sorcerers), set the tone for the series: a psychiatrist is locked in a room with his patient, and is stabbed to death with a needle. But if she didn’t kill him, who did? The entertaining fashion show-based At Night All Cats Are Gray offers a young model who turns to March for help, fearing for her life, but she is killed before he can assist her; the color of her ensemble is a major clue, rather funny for a B&W program. Christopher Lee guest stars in this one. Perhaps our favorite episode is The Case of the Lively Ghost; a phony medium rushes screaming Colonel March when she apparently has summoned up a real spirit! For sheer laughs, we also enjoyed Death and the Other Monkey: March is loathe to take the case of a missing laboratory ape until he learns that not only has someone swiped a monkey, but they left a substitute in its place. Now THAT is a case for the Department of Queer Complaints, particularly when a scientist ends up – yep, you guessed it – dead in a locked room.

A low-budget show that gets by on the charm and charisma of its legendary star, Colonel March of Scotland Yard is also a fun showcase for some familiar British and Canadian character actors, including Phil Brown (Luke’s Uncle Owen in Star Wars), Arthur Hill (Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law), child actor Peter Asher, future half of the hit song duo Peter and Gordon, and Zena Marshall, the Asian temptress tasked with keeping James Bond, um, “busy” until the assassins arrive in Dr. No.

As mentioned, it’s a low-budget series; Karloff wears the same outfit in every episode we watched, better to film hurriedly and get on with it. After the opening credits are written on the back of his tweed jacket, he ambles over to his desk and scrawls the name of that week’s episode in huge letters in his notebook. Colonel March disdains “normal” cases but lights up when an oddball crime is committed, and old pro Boris seems to relish the role.

The Film Chest presentation is complete and includes a pamphlet with a valuable episode guide, notes, and trivia (but the copy we got was mis-stapled, so the episodes didn’t match the running order on the three discs; s’okay, if the Colonel can figure out queer mysteries, we can figure out bad stapling) and a photo gallery. The episodes are not in prestine visual condition, but they are far and away the best this show has looked that we’ve ever seen. Also recommended, other rare Film Chest TV presentations, including Decoy with Beverly Garland and Deadline with Paul Stewart.

Here's hoping more classic TV obscurities and oddities are on the way!

"Welcome to the Department of Queer Complaints!"