Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The Third Alibi - 1961 film review

I didn't have especially high hopes of The Third Alibi, a 1961 crime film directed by Montgomery Tully, but I found myself enjoying a tautly directed and neatly written "inverted mystery" that surprised me more than once with the turns taken by the plot. The storyline contains several familiar ingredients, but here they are blended with a good deal of skill to produce a film that is distinctly superior to most British B-movies of its time.

The story was actually based on a play called "Moment of Blindness" by the husband and wife duo Pip and Jane Baker. Whether the play was actually performed before being filmed, I don't know, but as yet I haven't found a trace of it. The Bakers, incidentally, became much better known for their TV work, most notably on Doctor Who.

Laurence Payne, an actor best known for his TV appearances as Sexton Blake, and a man who became a reasonably successful crime novelist, plays a selfish and weak-willed composer called Norman Martell. He is married to Helen (Patricia Dainton) but having an affair with her half-sister Peggy (Jane Griffiths). Life gets more complicated when Peggy announces that she is pregnant. Helen refuses him a divorce and also keeps secret the fact that she is suffering from a serious heart condition. The plot potters around for a while, and the young Cleo Laine sings a ditty supposedly composed by Martell. (There's an uncredited appearance by Dudley Moore,  no less, as a pianist!) It is not a memorable song; suffice to say that Norman is no Burt Bacharach. Nor, when he begins to plan an ingenious murder, does he prove to be one of the more successful killers.

From the moment that his murder plot begins to unravel, the story gathers real momentum, and John Arnatt gives a nice performance as an affable but shrewd superintendent, while Arthur Hewlett makes his presence felt at the end of the film. In researching the film, I found a negative review by David Parkinson on the Radio Times site which struck me as excessively harsh. Much more thoughtful and perceptive is the review on the Classic Movie Ramblings blog, which describes the film as "a lot more special than one would expect". CMR recommends this film, and so do I.

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