Locked Room Mystery
Actor Steven McNicoll, in addition to his invaluable services to the nation as actor and funnyman, has a stockpile of thespian anecdotes second to none. Here’s one you might enjoy.
Wilfred Lawson, left, in THE WRONG BOX, suffering from the advanced stages of Wilfred Lawson Syndrome.
I’ve written before of Wilfred Lawson, character actor and celebrated inebriate. One of the few actors who could function quite well with a skinful, and who always seems quite drunk anyway when you see him in films. But there are limits, and you had to get him onstage or in front of the cameras before complete paralysis set in.
It seems he was to do a live radio show. A minder was given the task of keeping him from the demon drink. The minder escorted Lawson to a dressing room and locked him in. The room had been thoroughly searched, and did not contain a trace of liquor. Lawson was sober when he went in, and had no booze on his person. There were no windows, and the only door was securely locked from the outside. The minder had the only key.
Returning after an hour to collect Lawson for the broadcast, the minder finds him utterly rat-arsed, pissed beyond language. How was this possible?
Readers of John Dickson Carr might have the advantage in guessing this one, since Carr performed so many variants on the classic Locked Room Mystery during his long career (yet there are only a few movie adaptations, THE MAN WITH THE CLOAK being perhaps the best). In The Hollow Man, Carr’s obese detective, Dr. Gideon Fell, actually lists all the different solutions possible to an L.R.M. And it STILL doesn’t help the reader reach an answer to the problem at hand.
For the record, the basic gimmicks are:
1) The crime was committed BEFORE the room was hermetically sealed, despite appearances (see The Mystery of the Yellow Room).
2) The crime was committed AFTER the room was unsealed, despite appearances (the husband rushes in and quietly throttles his fainted wife while his friends are going for the doctor).
3) The room is not 100% sealed — there exists some kind of ingenious secret access (see The Murders in the Rue Morgue, where an inaccessible window turns out to be perfectly accessible — if you happen to be an orang-utan).
4) The crime was self-inflicted, with a cunning mechanism designed to disguise the fact (such as an elastic band that yanks the fatal pistol up the chimney when it is released from the victim’s hand, thus concealing the ugly truth of suicide).
I suppose I ought to tell you the answer to this one, but I’m quite curious to hear your suggestions first.