Three Cases of Murder and One Uncredited Director

I love a good horror anthology so you can imagine how thrilled I was when I recently sat down to watch THREE CASES OF MURDER (1955) for the first time. This unusual British film seems to have gone relatively unnoticed by numerous horror film historians and if it does warrant a mention it’s usually dismissed without much afterthought. But with a cast that includes Orson Welles and a segment directed by one of Britain’s first female directors (Wendy Toye), THREE CASES OF MURDER stands out as a wonderful example of early British horror cinema that rivals the highly acclaimed anthology DEAD OF NIGHT (1945).

The diverse stories that make up THREE CASES OF MURDER are linked together by actor Alan Badel who appears in them all along with host Eamonn Andrews who introduces each tale. In the first short titled In the Picture, Badel plays a menacing wraith-like character named ‘Mr. X’ who lives inside a painting hanging in a museum and lures others to join him there in a strange art induced purgatory. It was directed by Wendy Toye, who was one of Britain’s first female directors, making In the Picture an important milestone in horror cinema. It’s a beautifully crafted segment and extremely memorable thanks to Alan Badel’s exceptional performance as well as Toye’s utter devotion to the fantastique, which was a critical component of early European horror films. The deliberate pacing of the story combined with the director’s off-kilter framing choices and involving perspective shots make In the Picture particularly effective and arguably the most compelling addition to the anthology.

The second story is titled You Killed Elizabeth and it’s a more straightforward tale of murder and deception starring John Gregson and Emrys Jones as two friends who become enamored with the same woman. The story takes a grizzly turn when one of the men kills her in a violent crime of passion and Badel has a brief role as a bartender who indirectly ends up solving the crime. The segment was directed by David Easy who was able to maintain an atmosphere of dread that propels his tale toward its surprising conclusion. You Killed Elizabeth shares some similarities with Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE (1948) due to the way that the two male protagonists interact while trying to cover-up a murder and a lot of the action is confined to the apartment they share, which makes comparisons inevitable. But I could be overreaching. Many find You Killed Elizabeth to be the weakest of the three stories in the anthology and I’d have to agree but it also has its own gruesome rewards.

The final segment is based on a short story by W. Somerset Maugham titled Lord Mountdrago. It’s gotten the most attention from critics and that’s understandable because it stars Orson Welles who delivers an unforgettable performance here as the imposing Mountdrago. Lord Mountdrago is a conservative politician who lacks empathy and makes the mistake of publicly ridiculing a labor supporting Welshman by the name of Owen (Badel again) during a debate in the Houses Of Parliament. After Owen apparently places a curse on Lord Mountdrago, Welles’ character begins to have peculiar and often hysterically funny dreams that include forgetting to wear his pants to an elegant party or breaking into song during a Parliamentary debate. When Mountdrago’s dreams begin to take a more sinister turn he visits a psychiatrist in search of relief and the good doctor tells Mountdrago he must apologize to Owen if he wants his bad dreams to come to an end but he stubbornly refuses. George More O’Ferrall supposedly directed this segment but in Peter Bogdanovich‘s acclaimed book This Is Orson Welles he credits Welles with co-directing the dream sequences and I have no reason to doubt him. In fact, the entire segment has a vaguely Welles–like quality and I inevitably found myself comparing Lord Mountdrago to Charles Foster Kane. Both characters have many similar traits and behaviors that are relatively easy to spot. And in one memorable dream sequence Lord Mountdrago is forced to reluctantly join a surreal celebration that mimics the joyous newspaper party scene in CITIZEN KANE (1941) making the correlation between the two films impossible to ignore. By the time Mountdrago met his macabre end following a nasty stumble down a long shadowy staircase I was left wondering if Welles had directed the entire segment himself. Welles’ fingerprints seem to be all over the final story in this anthology but it could be wishful thinking on my part. You’ll have to watch yourself and decide but I personally think Welles was probably involved with the making of THREE CASES OF MURDER in more ways than he’s been credited for. I’ve documented Welles apparent interest in making fantasy films before and it’s quite possible that his involvement in the Lord Mountdrago segment is a continuation of that. If nothing else, it’s important to note that Welles performance as Mountdrago is one of his most comical and it’s just a joy to see him having so much fun with his role.

THREE CASES OF MURDER was released on PAL DVD in the UK in 2010 and it’s still available on video in the US. It was also released on Laser Disc by Criterion in the 1990s and they’ve recently made the film available at Hulu.com. I don’t know if Criterion plans to release THREE CASES OF MURDER on DVD in the future but it’s more than worthy of their attention and it deserves a wider audience as well as further consideration.

Further reading:
- Three Cases of Murder by Charles Dennis for Criterion
- Three Cases of Murder at British Horror Films

34 Responses Three Cases of Murder and One Uncredited Director
Posted By Susan Doll : January 26, 2012 5:55 pm

This movie sounds right up my alley–and I have never heard of it before, despite my unabashed adoration for all things Orson. And, one of my secret fantasies is to escape inside a painting–which also happens in an episode of Night Gallery. I will have to check Facets’ VHS rentals to see if they have this one. Thanks for sharing.

Posted By Susan Doll : January 26, 2012 5:55 pm

This movie sounds right up my alley–and I have never heard of it before, despite my unabashed adoration for all things Orson. And, one of my secret fantasies is to escape inside a painting–which also happens in an episode of Night Gallery. I will have to check Facets’ VHS rentals to see if they have this one. Thanks for sharing.

Posted By AL : January 26, 2012 6:41 pm

One of my Favorites. IN THE PICTURE is truly horrifying and haunting; Classic. The other two shorts are just “OK”, even with the participation of Welles (who looks wonderful). The photography is exceptional. I, too, consider it to be ALMOST a companion piece to DEAD OF NIGHT, but certainly not as good. I treasure my laserdisc, but hope Criterion will work their Magic on this slightly overrlooked film…

Posted By AL : January 26, 2012 6:41 pm

One of my Favorites. IN THE PICTURE is truly horrifying and haunting; Classic. The other two shorts are just “OK”, even with the participation of Welles (who looks wonderful). The photography is exceptional. I, too, consider it to be ALMOST a companion piece to DEAD OF NIGHT, but certainly not as good. I treasure my laserdisc, but hope Criterion will work their Magic on this slightly overrlooked film…

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 26, 2012 6:50 pm

Susan – Thanks for bringing up NIGHT GALLERY! Excellent comparison and I wouldn’t be surprised if Rod Serling was inspired by the entire first segment of THREE CASES OF MURDER when he came up with the idea for the show. Love to read your thoughts on it once you get a chance to see it. I want to know if others see the Wellesian aspects in it as much as I do. Very little info or critical analysis of the films seems to be available. I have a pretty extensive collection of British horror related film books at my disposal and the lack of info is kind of startling.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 26, 2012 6:50 pm

Susan – Thanks for bringing up NIGHT GALLERY! Excellent comparison and I wouldn’t be surprised if Rod Serling was inspired by the entire first segment of THREE CASES OF MURDER when he came up with the idea for the show. Love to read your thoughts on it once you get a chance to see it. I want to know if others see the Wellesian aspects in it as much as I do. Very little info or critical analysis of the films seems to be available. I have a pretty extensive collection of British horror related film books at my disposal and the lack of info is kind of startling.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 26, 2012 6:53 pm

AL – Great to hear from another fan of the film although I might like the movie a bit more than you. I think it’s just as compelling as DARK OF NIGHT for its own reasons. Not any better but for my money, just as interesting & entertaining. I hope a Criterion DVD is in the works. Since they’ve made the film available on Hulu I have hope that it might be and I’d like to see it released with lots of nice extras, commentary, etc.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 26, 2012 6:53 pm

AL – Great to hear from another fan of the film although I might like the movie a bit more than you. I think it’s just as compelling as DARK OF NIGHT for its own reasons. Not any better but for my money, just as interesting & entertaining. I hope a Criterion DVD is in the works. Since they’ve made the film available on Hulu I have hope that it might be and I’d like to see it released with lots of nice extras, commentary, etc.

Posted By AL : January 26, 2012 7:12 pm

Cool. Even though I watch it periodically, DEAD OF NIGHT never fails to scare the crap out of me with the same intensity that it did when I first saw it as a child. The only other film that gives me the “HeebieJeebies” is THE CHANGELING. Thank you for this wonderful article. IN THE PICTURE: shiver me timbers! AL

Posted By AL : January 26, 2012 7:12 pm

Cool. Even though I watch it periodically, DEAD OF NIGHT never fails to scare the crap out of me with the same intensity that it did when I first saw it as a child. The only other film that gives me the “HeebieJeebies” is THE CHANGELING. Thank you for this wonderful article. IN THE PICTURE: shiver me timbers! AL

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 26, 2012 7:30 pm

AL – Horror films have a tendency to lose their “scare the crap out of ya” factor over time. But once you get past those jump out of your seat moments you can start to appreciate other aspects of a film like the acting, directing choices, etc. THE CHANGELING is a good one. I really like George C. Scott’s performance in that.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 26, 2012 7:30 pm

AL – Horror films have a tendency to lose their “scare the crap out of ya” factor over time. But once you get past those jump out of your seat moments you can start to appreciate other aspects of a film like the acting, directing choices, etc. THE CHANGELING is a good one. I really like George C. Scott’s performance in that.

Posted By AL : January 26, 2012 7:55 pm

KIMBERLY–I agree with you, of course; but DEAD OF NIGHT and THE CHANGELING are the exception here–they’re only “scary” movies that work for/on me EVERY time…Hey: why don’t you do an article on DEAD OF NIGHT? You’re terrific! AL

Posted By AL : January 26, 2012 7:55 pm

KIMBERLY–I agree with you, of course; but DEAD OF NIGHT and THE CHANGELING are the exception here–they’re only “scary” movies that work for/on me EVERY time…Hey: why don’t you do an article on DEAD OF NIGHT? You’re terrific! AL

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 26, 2012 11:48 pm

AL – Thanks for the kind words. Don’t know if or when I’ll get around to writing about DEAD OF NIGHT but my fellow Morlock Richard H. SMith wrote a nice piece about the film that you can find here: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/72515/Dead-of-Night/articles.html

As for being frightened by particular movies, I can totally understand that! Horror is my favorite film genre but there are a lot of horror films that I’ve seen multiple times and yet I still have trouble watching them alone. THE INNOCENTS with Deborah Kerr is a great example of a movie that still gives me a bad case of the “heebie-jeebies.” I love it but I find it hard to watch for all the right reasons.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 26, 2012 11:48 pm

AL – Thanks for the kind words. Don’t know if or when I’ll get around to writing about DEAD OF NIGHT but my fellow Morlock Richard H. SMith wrote a nice piece about the film that you can find here: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/72515/Dead-of-Night/articles.html

As for being frightened by particular movies, I can totally understand that! Horror is my favorite film genre but there are a lot of horror films that I’ve seen multiple times and yet I still have trouble watching them alone. THE INNOCENTS with Deborah Kerr is a great example of a movie that still gives me a bad case of the “heebie-jeebies.” I love it but I find it hard to watch for all the right reasons.

Posted By Jenni : January 27, 2012 8:32 am

Thank you for this post, echoing others comments as this is a film I’d never heard of before. I have seen and greatly enjoyed Dead of Night, so I plan on visiting Hulu’s site and viewing this new to me film.

Posted By Jenni : January 27, 2012 8:32 am

Thank you for this post, echoing others comments as this is a film I’d never heard of before. I have seen and greatly enjoyed Dead of Night, so I plan on visiting Hulu’s site and viewing this new to me film.

Posted By swac : January 27, 2012 9:16 am

Funny, when I got the notification of this new post in my email, I thought that the title rang a bell, and as soon as I saw the picture of Alan Badel with his cane, it all came back to me. I think I must have seen this on the Canadian version of Bravo! years ago, but the first and third segments came back to mind immediately, while I barely remember the middle one. I love a good horror anthology, from some of the Corman titles to Trilogy of Terror, although I’ve missed out on some of the recent attempts to revive the format.

Posted By swac : January 27, 2012 9:16 am

Funny, when I got the notification of this new post in my email, I thought that the title rang a bell, and as soon as I saw the picture of Alan Badel with his cane, it all came back to me. I think I must have seen this on the Canadian version of Bravo! years ago, but the first and third segments came back to mind immediately, while I barely remember the middle one. I love a good horror anthology, from some of the Corman titles to Trilogy of Terror, although I’ve missed out on some of the recent attempts to revive the format.

Posted By Harvey Chartrand : January 27, 2012 11:22 am

Only six years after THE THIRD MAN, once svelte Orson had gained about 150 pounds. He was now Big Orson, and although still young-ish, played older characters more often. Welles always had a fascination with the grotesqueries of old age… 22-year-old Orson played the octogenarian Captain Shotover in Shaw’s HEARTBREAK HOUSE on Broadway in 1938. The “Lord Mountdrago” segment of THREE CASES OF MURDER is one of Welles’ best films, made while he was churning out Eurotrash to pay the bills. Welles’ English accent is flawless and his makeup is superb. He’s wearing one of his best putty noses. Welles would have been great in the “In the Picture” segment, but by 1955, his ample girth made it impossible for him to squeeze through the picture frame. Pity. Welles’ weight fluctuates wildly in OTHELLO, filmed in fits and starts from 1949 to 1952. He starts off as a heartthrob in blackface and ends up as a porky pachyderm trying to hide his ever expanding waistline in tent-like robes and capes.

Posted By Harvey Chartrand : January 27, 2012 11:22 am

Only six years after THE THIRD MAN, once svelte Orson had gained about 150 pounds. He was now Big Orson, and although still young-ish, played older characters more often. Welles always had a fascination with the grotesqueries of old age… 22-year-old Orson played the octogenarian Captain Shotover in Shaw’s HEARTBREAK HOUSE on Broadway in 1938. The “Lord Mountdrago” segment of THREE CASES OF MURDER is one of Welles’ best films, made while he was churning out Eurotrash to pay the bills. Welles’ English accent is flawless and his makeup is superb. He’s wearing one of his best putty noses. Welles would have been great in the “In the Picture” segment, but by 1955, his ample girth made it impossible for him to squeeze through the picture frame. Pity. Welles’ weight fluctuates wildly in OTHELLO, filmed in fits and starts from 1949 to 1952. He starts off as a heartthrob in blackface and ends up as a porky pachyderm trying to hide his ever expanding waistline in tent-like robes and capes.

Posted By AL : January 27, 2012 5:19 pm

KIMBERLY—-THE INNOCENTS? that’s #3 on my list! Auric score, mind-boggling camera work (Freddie Francis). Screenplay by Capote? hello? Kerr magnificent as always, & how about Pamela Franklin??!! Peter Wyngarde? and that location! a GREAT film.
thanx for the tip about the DEAD OF NIGHT site; I’m on my way there now…AL

Posted By AL : January 27, 2012 5:19 pm

KIMBERLY—-THE INNOCENTS? that’s #3 on my list! Auric score, mind-boggling camera work (Freddie Francis). Screenplay by Capote? hello? Kerr magnificent as always, & how about Pamela Franklin??!! Peter Wyngarde? and that location! a GREAT film.
thanx for the tip about the DEAD OF NIGHT site; I’m on my way there now…AL

Posted By dukeroberts : January 28, 2012 1:11 pm

Darn! It’s only available on Hulu? I will give it a whirl. I was hoping it might be available for streaming on Netflix, but alas, it is not. I guess I will have to put up with those damn commercials on Hulu. This movie looks totally worth it.

Edge of Night was a good movie, but it wasn’t particularly creepy until that dummy got up and walked across the floor. Kudos to AL for mentioning The Changeling and to Kimberly for mentioning The Innocents. Those are two of my favorites too. Those movies are creepy for different reasons too. The Innocents has the silences and the small, tiny noises like the child’s whispers and singing while The Changeling has the loud clanging of the tub. Both are great.

Posted By dukeroberts : January 28, 2012 1:11 pm

Darn! It’s only available on Hulu? I will give it a whirl. I was hoping it might be available for streaming on Netflix, but alas, it is not. I guess I will have to put up with those damn commercials on Hulu. This movie looks totally worth it.

Edge of Night was a good movie, but it wasn’t particularly creepy until that dummy got up and walked across the floor. Kudos to AL for mentioning The Changeling and to Kimberly for mentioning The Innocents. Those are two of my favorites too. Those movies are creepy for different reasons too. The Innocents has the silences and the small, tiny noises like the child’s whispers and singing while The Changeling has the loud clanging of the tub. Both are great.

Posted By JoeDoakes : January 30, 2012 5:58 pm

When will Orson Welles be SOTM? It would be nice to see some of his more obscure films.

Posted By JoeDoakes : January 30, 2012 5:58 pm

When will Orson Welles be SOTM? It would be nice to see some of his more obscure films.

Posted By Peach917 : February 4, 2012 7:15 pm

Thank you so much. This was great I have never heard of this one. Will find and screen with friends that love this film. Thank you again love your postings.

Posted By Peach917 : February 4, 2012 7:15 pm

Thank you so much. This was great I have never heard of this one. Will find and screen with friends that love this film. Thank you again love your postings.

Posted By Jeb : January 10, 2013 11:34 am

Bought the Region 2 DVD and just watched it. What a great movie, and really appreciate the recommendation. The bonus 2-reeler on the DVD w/ Orson is icing on the cake.

Posted By Jeb : January 10, 2013 11:34 am

Bought the Region 2 DVD and just watched it. What a great movie, and really appreciate the recommendation. The bonus 2-reeler on the DVD w/ Orson is icing on the cake.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 10, 2013 7:49 pm

Glad to be of service, Jeb! By the way, how was the quality of that Region 2 DVD? I’ve been thinking about ordering a copy for myself.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 10, 2013 7:49 pm

Glad to be of service, Jeb! By the way, how was the quality of that Region 2 DVD? I’ve been thinking about ordering a copy for myself.

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