Ellen Summers (Lana Morris) approaches Brady on his train journey home with a very strange story. She’s just escaped from a sanatorium, where she claims that she’s been kept prisoner for months. Ellen insists she’s not mad and tells Brady that she’s the only one who can prove that her boyfriend George Wilson (William Lucas) is innocent of murder ….
Brady’s a touch tardy when he gets off the train. He heads off to speak to Dee, not noticing that Ellen isn’t by his side. Still if Ellen had stayed with him then I guess the story would have been much more straightforward!
Death Cell is another episode which doesn’t have a great deal of mystery. If George is innocent then Dr Trevor (Ian Wallace), the sanatorium’s director (as well as the chief prosecution witness during George’s trial) is clearly guilty. When Brady meets him, Dr Trevor claims that Ellen is suffering from persecution mania, but it’s not a terribly convincing performance. Dr Trevor I mean, not Ian Wallace, who’s perfectly fine.
The later sight of a recaptured Ellen, bound in a straightjacket, gagged and about to receive a hefty injection of something which will no doubt quieten her down is a somewhat disturbing one (and serves as a very effective cliffhanger into the episode break). Luckily Brady’s lurking about and dishes out some invisible justice (striking Dr Trevor with a chair!)
William Lucas (probably best known for The Adventures of Black Beauty amongst many other credits) nicely underplays as the innocent George. The news that he’s due to be hanged the following day serves as a reminder that this was a very different time as well as providing the story with considerable dramatic impetus – a race against the clock to save a man’s life.
Lana Morris started her career as a supporting actress in a number of British films during the 1940’s and 1950’s. However she never seemed to find the major role that would have catapulted her to stardom and so like many others later pursued a successful television career. She appeared as Helene in the classic 1967 adaptation of The Forsythe Saga whilst her last role was as Vanessa in Howards’ Way. Since that’s a series that’s on my rewatch pile, I look forward to making her acquaintance again shortly.
Ellen has proof of George’s innocence – a photograph hidden behind the wallpaper in her old flat. Luckily it’s still there, even though a new tenant has moved in, and Brady is the one who scrapes the wallpaper away to find it (a blatant excuse for a touch of invisible shenanigans, but why not).
To misplace Ellen once is unfortunate, but to lose her a second time smacks of carelessness. Brady sends Ellen out of the flat whilst he tidies up, but wouldn’t you guess it – Dr Trevor and his devoted assistant Nurse Beck (Bettina Dickson) are waiting outside, complete with a fast car and knock out drops.
The action comes thick and fast as Ellen escapes from Dr Trevor yet again, only to be knocked down by another car. Luckily there’s a policeman close at hand, who isn’t happy for her to be whisked off yet again by Dr Trevor (the officer is concerned that she was running away from him). Dr Trevor’s reply is succinct. “She’s a mental case”.
If some of the plotting is rather convenient – Dr Trevor is a murderer who just happens to own a sanatorium (all the better for confining the likes of Ellen) – then there’s a good level of suspense which is maintained until the closing minutes. With Ellen injured in hospital and Dr Trevor now in possession of the photograph, all seems lost for George.
True, it’s a tad convenient that Brady turns up just in the nick of time. Dr Trevor’s about to burn the negative, but Brady pulls it out of his hand (“oh no you don’t!”) The following scene, with George about to set off for the scaffold, is chilling in it’s own curtailed way, but once again Brady pops up at just the right moment. A few quibbles about the story apart, Death Cell packs a lot into its twenty five minutes.