Three Cases of Murder (1955)
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In the first segment, titled In The Picture, an art gallery guide is lured into a macabre house painting by the artist and finds himself at the mercy of the residents who dwell there. In the second segment, titled You Killed Elizabeth, two friends fall in love with the same woman and when she is murdered it's obvious one of them did it. But which one? The final segment, titled Lord Mountdrago, The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs ruins the career of an opponent in Parliament and finds the man appearing in his dreams enacting retribution.
As is always the case with anthologies, the quality of stories is mixed, with here the middle section being the one that is pretty standard fare. No such problem with the other two stories though.
The first one is very creepy, even bordering on the terrifying as the tale reaches its conclusion. Once the story reaches the insides of the house in the painting, we are treated to a trio of odd characters living in a house that instantly conjures up images of horror. Ramshackle and creaky, director Wendy Toye further enhances the discord by using canted angles and personalised framing. An excellent story. Starring Hugh Pryse, Alan Badel and Eddie Byrne.
The third tale is considerably boosted by Orson Welles giving bluster to the story written by W. Somerset Maugham. Not without genuine moments of humour, it never reaches scary heights but always it feels off-kilter, the revenge dream attack angle devilish and the production has good quality about it. Very good. Alan Badel co-stars and although the three stories are not related, he is the constant actor in all three. Grand old British trilogy. 8/10
Orson Welles received top billing, but he appears only in "Lord Mountdrago." According to Patrick Macnee, who had a supporting role, Welles began making suggestions to director George More O'Ferrall throughout the first day of filming, and by the third day he had taken over the direction of the entire segment.
Does this surprise anyone? Of course Welles would be the star to draw audiences in, and of course he would try to take over the production, because that was very much the sort of chap he was. For better or worse, a film starring Welles was very much a Welles film.
As far as anthologies go, this one is not often remembered. And as far as horror anthologies go (if this even counts), it seems all but forgotten, overshadowed by the later Amicus films. I love Amicus, and it is hard to beat them, but surely this film must have been some influence on the later Amicus and Hammer productions.
As ever, the quality of the stories is mixed, with the first being the best. The main character is the curator of an art gallery who learns of the mysterious background of a particularly atmospheric painting of a spooky old house. He visits the house itself and the sinister occupiers, as well as the artist, only to learn of a terrifying secret. This story boasts strong acting and some great visuals and it's the highlight of the film - and the most supernatural.
The second story is the weakest of the trio and also instantly forgettable. A couple of guys are accused of the murder of a girl, and each provides an alibi for the other. The characters are weak and unmemorable and nothing much happens. The third story is dominated by the presence of star Orson Welles who brings a ton of bluster and charisma to his role of the unpleasant House of Lords member who finds himself haunted by a rival in his dreams. It's essentially an extension of the whole Macbeth/Banquo angle yet Welles makes it his own and lifts the material considerably. The humour might be a bit too broad here but it's a nice way to end a fun and atmospheric little production.
There are three stories, and it is marvelous how they complement each other.
The project seems to have been built around the last story. It is by Somerset Maugham, adapted by the producer and starring Orson Welles. Orson was deep into his newly found soulmate and had just finished Mr. Arkadin, something special. The story is of a man, Orson's character, who makes an enemy. This enemy vows to destroy his spirit and begins to enter Orson's dreams. In "real life" he acknowledges having done so. This drives Orson mad, and to his death.
Orson understood this notion of folded acting, where several layers of character as well as story are supported. We aren't at all sure what is dream, what is imagined and real. We are not sure who is the narrator: Orson, the enemy or some third observer. Orson supports all three. It is marvelous. We may never have another one with this depth.
This final story is masterfully prepared by the two previous stories.
The first is of mysteries in an art museum. Objects disappear, and a certain painting's frameglass breaks.
The fold is that the most engaging painting in the building is the one whose glass breaks. It is painted by an unknown. We learn that this painter, now dead, occupies the house in the painting, with a couple others who were "assigned" to the painting. The house contains the art objects stolen from the museum. The story concerns the constraints of the folded medium, and how difficult it is to keep painting the painting once you are in it.
The second story is a more ordinary fold: the framing of a friend for a murder, convincing that friend that he is guilty. The narrator, as we discover, is untrusted and has lied to us as well. This sets up our man Orson, whose "Mr. Arkadin," just happens to have precisely these three folds.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
Story 1 is intriguing and disturbing but a bit too long. Some of the flat spots add to the suspense and atmosphere, but some are just flat spots.
Agatha Christie has spoiled us for the likes of Story 2. I'm sure most people see the twist coming a mile off. The only sub-standard section.
A great actor and a master storyteller come together to produce something special in Story 3, marginally better than Story 1 and thus best of the bunch.