As it’s the time of year when we all love a touch of the supernatural, we thought we might draw your attention to this gem of British cinema.
“Three Cases of Murder” is a portmanteau British film of three stories released in 1955. It is curiously neglected, given the quality of the production, the unusual tales, and the fact that it stars such terrific actors as Orson Welles, Alan Badel and John Gregson.
As a film with ‘murder’ in the title it is very unusual in that two of the stories are supernatural – reminiscent of the Ealing classic (a great favourite of ours) “Dead of Night”. There are elements of the bizarre in two of the stories. A strange mixture of styles but it really works.
The stories are introduced by Eamonn Andrews, best known in this country as the presenter of “This is Your Life”. This in itself was a bizarre idea, but not an unusual device in portmanteau pictures of the period.
I’m not going to say too much about the plots, because this is a DVD you should seek out yourselves. But, very briefly:
In the first story “The Picture” – based on a story by Roderick Wilkinson – a museum gallery attendant is puzzled by the theft of pictures, and absorbed by a painting of a strange house. He is lured into the picture and encounters a murderous artist. It sounds a strange premise and it is, but it is extremely effective and well directed by Wendy Toye. The section features a wonderful performance by Alan Badel as the artist, the first of three different characters he plays in this film.
The second tale “You Killed Elizabeth” is a straightforward whodunit, about two friends who fall in love with the same woman with deadly consequences. The story was written by Sidney Carroll, of “The Hustler” fame. The two men are played by John Gregson, of Inspector Gideon fame, and Emrys Jones, and Elizabeth by Elizabeth Sellars. Alan Badel appears again, showing the great breadth of his acting talent, as a barman.
The third and concluding tale is Lord “Mountdrago”, starring Orson Welles as the title character. According to the actor Patrick Macnee, who had an uncredited bit-part in this segment, Welles more or less took over the direction from the first day.
Mountdrago is a hard-hearted foreign secretary in a Tory government. A great orator who destroys the political credibility of a Labour politician called Owen (a Welshman and probably suggested by Nye Bevan) in a cutting speech. Mountdrago’s words come back to haunt him in an increasingly bizarre series of nightmares (you’ll never think of the old music hall song “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do” again in quite the same way once you’ve seen it performed in this film!)
Welles’s descent into madness in wonderfully written and superbly performed and directed. Alan Badel appears again as Owen in a mesmerising performance that quite matches that of Welles. The original story was written by W. Somerset Maugham.
The DVD we have, in The Best of British Collection produced by Odeon Entertainment, also has an extra in the form of Orson Welles’s short ghost story “Return to Glennascaul”. I’ll say no more about this here but watch out for a Christmas blog next week when I’ll pay it proper attention.