Directed by Jim O’Connolly; produced by John I. Phillips
An unusual car-wreck brings Roper (Peter Vaughan), an insurance assessor, to Brighton, to investigate the strange circumstances surrounding the event. There has been no body found, and a ₤100,000 pay-out is at stake. Mr Roper’s methods are slow and methodical, but he isn’t sure that what he is investigating is even a crime.
Smokescreen is an example of a film that should have had everything against it. The story is a pretty routine mystery, the budget is so small Ed Wood could have been the producer, and the cast mostly comprises unknowns. Yet, within its limitations, Smokescreen works.
Much of the credit goes to the lead actor, Peter Vaughan. A supporting performer who should be very familiar to anyone who has watched British-made films or television over the past fifty years, Vaughan’s sharp, villainous face usually put him in sinister roles, though he sometimes played sympathetic characters; his talent made sure that he was as believable at one end of the spectrum as at the other. It’s telling that he is well-remembered in Britain as the frightening prison boss from the situation comedy Porridge - even though he was in a mere three episodes of its four year run. In Smokescreen, though, he is on the right side of the law - mostly - a fairly drab and anonymous insurance investigator, dogged and sharp and, while not instantly likeable, he nonetheless grows considerably on the viewer.
The script is better than the story, especially in fashioning the character of Roper. He is so tight-fisted that even his thrifty boss urges him to spend a little more, and charge it to his expense account. Roper’s constant questioning of costs and his parsimony, as well as his very minor ‘fiddling’ of his expenses (a few pennies here, a shilling there) have a purpose, however, and it adds greatly to his character.
The direction seems pedestrian, yet makes very good use of locale, taking advantage of the scenery, both urban and rural, of the south coast of England. As mentioned above, the budget was clearly small; Smokescreen has the feel of an extended television episode. But the director and producer successfully worked with what they had.
Smokescreen is a creditable effort on the part of all involved, and demonstrates why British filmed entertainment could be of decent quality regardless of obstacles.