Friday, December 2, 2016

The Third Alibi (1961)

The Third Alibi is a rather obscure little 1961 low-budget British murder mystery. It’s always a joy when a movie like this turns out to be a lot more special than one would expect. This one is in fact a neglected gem.

Composer Norman Martell (Laurence Payne) is married to Helen (Patricia Dainton) but he’s having an affair with Helen’s half-sister Peggy (Jane Griffiths). Peggy is putting a lot of pressure on Norman to ask Helen for a divorce. Peggy is determined that Norman is going to marry her. Unfortunately (for Norman) Helen absolutely refuses to consider giving him a divorce. As so often happens in crime movies it occurs to the adulterous couple that murdering Helen would solve all their problems. Norman has cooked up an elaborate plan for the perfect murder. He has gone into the matter in painstaking detail. Both he and Peggy will have rock-solid unbreakable alibis. Two alibis that will guarantee success.

Of course if every perfect murder went according to plan there wouldn’t be any murder mystery movies. Something will go wrong and to the film’s credit the plan goes awry in an interesting and original manner. This provides the first of the movie’s nasty little twists. It’s the third alibi that provides the really vicious sting in the tail and it’s very clever indeed.

Maurice J. Wilson and Montgomery Tully wrote the screenplay and it’s a very fine piece of work, intricately constructed and with a very neat symmetry as the third major plot twist kicks in at the end.

Tully also directed. He was responsible for numerous low-budget features and his directing style is unostentatious but quietly effective.

The cast is equally impressive. Patricia Dainton is excellent as Helen, giving a subtle performance that becomes more and impressive as the movie progresses. Laurence Payne is equally as good as Norman, a selfish man and a weak one and there’s nothing more dangerous (and pathetic) than a weak man who tries to be forceful and decisive. Jane Griffiths is also very solid as Peggy, a woman who is in her own way every bit as reprehensible and conniving as Norman. Norman and Peggy are very unsympathetic characters but that actually works to the film’s advantage - they’re awful people but they’re awful in a way that keeps us engrossed.

John Arnatt is quite splendid as the quietly spoken Superintendent Ross, a man who does his job without fuss but with thoroughness and efficiency.

Look out for brief cameos by Cleo Laine and Dudley Moore (playing the piano).

This is a low-budget movie but the great thing about crime pictures is that they don’t need big budgets. It was obviously shot mostly (or even possibly almost entirely) in the studio but it doesn’t look cheap or shoddy. Production values are perfectly adequate. It’s the writing and the performances that matter and there are no problems in those departments.

Running time is 68 minutes and there’s not a wasted minute in the movie.

Renown Pictures have released this movie as part of a three-movie DVD set (the other movies being A Stranger in Town and Night Was Our Friend). It’s a single-disc set but since each movie only runs for a bit over an hour there are no problems at all with this method and the transfers are quite satisfactory. There are no extras but the set is still excellent value for money. Of the other two movies Night Was Our Friend is also pretty good. I haven’t had a chance to watch A Stranger in Town. It’s a UK DVD but the good news is that it’s all-region.

The Third Alibi is a very nifty little movie with a clever plot and and excellent performances. Very highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Saw this a few days ago on the Talking Pictures channel. Very good indeed.

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