Some of the most obscure titles in cinematic history have been released on disc, so it makes it even more frustrating when there’s one that hasn’t been given the dvd or blu-ray treatment yet. I’m hoping what I am about to write will no longer be true at some point in the near future: the best movie I have seen yet to be released on home video is 1954’s Three Cases of Murder.
This is a solid entry in one of my favorite genres, the horror/supernatural anthology. The British film is largely a showcase for actor Alan Badel, as he is the only person to appear in all three segments. I’m not sure why there is so much focus her on this relatively obscure actor, but he does turn in three distinctive performances that are all significantly different from each other.
The first segment is the best, and is the reason that, once this finally debuts on disc, I’ll be hounding everybody I know until they buy a copy. At an art museum, a man sits in a gallery, enraptured by a painting. A man appears next to him on the bench and strikes up a conversation about the work. This oddly dressed man encourages the other to look more intently into the image.
Soon, we are seeing the painting straight on and we push into the work, finally up the house in the center of it. The front door opens. The transition into the painting is a stunning effect, even today. In fact, I’m not sure how it was done and I have scrutinized this frame-by-frame.
The phrase “dreamlike” is overused, but there isn’t a better one to describe the world inside the painting. I don’t want to say much about it because I want first-time viewers to experience it for themselves. The tone of his segment has been fantasy up to this point; however, moments of increasing creepiness build until this becomes pure horror.
This mini-masterpiece was directed by Wendy Toye and I want to see more of her work, just because of what she does here. Unfortunately, most of her other directing efforts seem to be equally difficult to find.
The second segment is a rather straight-forward tale of murder, complete with the surprise comeuppance of the killer. It is the least of the three, yet still far better than the inevitable weak sequence of any other anthology I can think of.
On the other hand, the third sequence is almost (almost) as great as the first. In this, Orson Welles plays a member of Parliament who is subjected to nightmares pushed into his mind by Badel. The dream sequences are inspired, such as one where, in the middle of a Parliamentary session, Welles springs into “A Bicycle Built for Two” against his will and all the other members join in.
Three Cases of Murder can be hard to track down but it is worth the effort. I just hope some day it will be much easier to find.
Dir: Wendy Toye, David Eady, George More O’Ferrall
Starring Alan Badel, Orson Welles