Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Three Cases of Murder - film/DVD review

Three Cases of Murder, a film dating from 1955, was released a while back on DVD. It isn't an especially renowned film, even though Orson Welles appears in it, but it really ought to be. I think it bears comparison with Dead of Night, that classic chiller, which scared me when I was eleven years old, and watched it for the first time. Like Dead of Night, this one is a portmanteau film, comprising three distinct stories (apparently, the origiinal plan was for there to be five stories, but budget pressures forced a cut-back; even so, it's a very watchable film.)

The linking device between the stories is different from that in Dead of Night, and less powerful. In fact, it now seems rather odd. Each story is introduced by, of all people, Eamonn Andrews. Perhaps the film shoudl have been called This is Your Death. I'm afraid Eamoon doesn't add a lot of value; the film succeeds in spite of his presence, rather than thanks to it.

The first of the three stories, "In the Picture", is the most memorable. It's a very macabre story written by Roderick Wilson, yet I've been unable to find out anything about Wilson; does anyone reading this blog know anything about him? The tale begins quite jauntily, with some rather intrusive background music, but soon settles into something different, and disturbing. It's worth watching the movie for this segment alone.

"You Killed Elizabeth" is based on a story by Brett Halliday (real name David Dresser), who was at one time married to the admirable Helen McCloy. It's a short, competent whodunit, featuring John Gregson in his pre-George Gideon days. "Lord Mountdrago", based on a story by Somerset Maugham, stars Welles as a nasty Foreign Secretary who is haunted by his enemy, a Kinnock-esque politician played by the excellent Alan Badel, who also has key roles in the other two segments. The DVD also contains as a bonus an Irish ghost story which again features Welles. I was expecting something okay from this film, but found I was watching something truly enjoyable. Strongly recommended.

11 comments:

R.T. said...

Ah, a Maugham story. Why has his start faded so much in the past half century? He deserves more respect and more readers now.

Clothes In Books said...

This sounds unmissable Martin, I am definitely going to seek it out. It sounds like perfect watching for a cold dark winter's night...

Philip Amos said...

Roderick Wilson is surely a bit of a mystery in himself. At first, given Welles also directed his own scenes in the Maugham story, I wondered if it might be another of his pseudonyms or, given the year, that of an American screenwriter in exile. But I came across a French film of 1975 entitled Que Voyez-vous Miss Ellis? Wilson was co-screenwriter, but the movie is also based on his novel. The two bits of output are twenty years apart, so presumably he did something in between, as also pre-55 and post-75, but I can find not a trace of what.

dfordoom said...

I saw this one not too long ago and I agree it's very underrated.

Martin Edwards said...

Nice comments - thanks! Philip, you've discovered more than I managed to. The idea that RW might be Welles in disguise is truly intriguing. The Miss Ellis film seems mysterious in itself. I've just found mention of "Tell Me What You See, Miss Ellis", a short story by Wilson, in an sf magazine called Far Point which is on Amazon. Perhaps it's not impossible that Wilson was indeed Welles?

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I remember being really impressed with the "In The Picture" episode too but don't recall much of the other too (and I'm a huge Welles fan at that).

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Sergio, do you think it's possible that Welles was Roderick Wilson?

John said...

I didn't know there was a British version of "This Is Your Life." I thought that was a very American TV show. The host for ours was Ralph Edwards not a particularly authoritarian presence. Had he been the linking narrator in the episodes I would've been snickering.

I was disappointed with this movie overall. The only episode I enjoyed was the first one which was delightfully strange and surreal. Like Sergio I don't remember much about the other two episodes. Even after reading your review! And I saw this movie for the first time earlier this year.

John said...

Found a brief bibliography of Roderick Wilkinson's (not Wilson) short stories at the FictionMags database that range from the mid 1950s to the mid 1970s, plus a few reprints in a journal that published fiction in the 1980s. Apparently he was a real individual born in 1917 and not one of Welles' alter egos. Unfortunately, "In the Picture" is not among those tales listed in the bibliography I found so it's original source has still not be identified, at least on the internet. He also wrote at least four crime novels between 1958 and 1969.

Martin Edwards said...

Philip, Sergio has directed me to Amazon, which reveals that Wilson wrote a number of books over the years, though they are mostly very hard to find these days.

bobby J said...

I did a search a long time ago for the "In the Picture" and I remember coming up with some info that suggested that it was based upon a BBC radio play.

Now, with ever more resources for research coming online, I've been able to locate where it came from.

It was broadcast on BBC Radio

IN THE PICTURE'
BBC Home Service Basic, 23 May 1952 22.25
Synopsis
A thriller by Roderick Wilkinson
Produced by Charles Lefeaux
Contributors
Unknown: Roderick Wilkinson
Produced By: Charles Lefeaux
Adams: Wyndham Milligan
Attendant: Hamilton Dyce
Gordon: Peter Copley
Blake: Richard Hurndall

IN THE PICTURE
BBC Home Service Basic, 10 June 1952 16.10
Synopsis
A thriller by Roderick Wilkinson
Produced by Charles Lefeaux
Contributors
Unknown: Roderick Wilkinson
Produced By: Charles Lefeaux
Adams: Wyndham Milligan
Attendant: Hamillon Dyce
Gordon: Peter Copley
Blake: Richard Hurndall

best regards Bobby J