A twisty mystery with a tremendous finale!
UK / 85 minutes / bw / Merton Park, Elvey-Gartside, Eros Dir: Maurice Elvey Pr: Ernest Gartside Scr: Gerald Anstruther, David Evans Story: The Third Visitor (1950 play) by Gerald Anstruther Cine: Stephen Dade Cast: Sonia Dresdel, Guy Middleton, Hubert Gregg, Colin Gordon, Karel Stepanek, Eleanor Summerfield, John Slater, Michael Martin Harvey, Cyril Smith.
Adapted from a successful West End play, this is an example of quite how well the postwar UK moviemakers could craft their entertainments using the minimal resources available to them.
Obviously done on a budget, The Third Visitor nevertheless absolutely satisfies its remit, which is to keep us engrossed for an hour and a half or so. The plot’s as twisty as that of the average modern neonoir, and some of the volte-faces are genuinely surprising. Only once or twice do we become aware of the movie’s theatrical origins—a couple of the police interviews have that “stage” feel—but this is more than compensated for by a very good piece of theater toward the end that was presumably deliberately brought over from the original.
Jim Oliver (John Slater) spells out a few truths to Carling.
In NYC, recently released crook James C. “Jim” Oliver (Slater) comes across a magazine photo of London-dwelling businessman and playboy Richard Carling (Stepanek) and promptly books a transatlantic flight. Soon after, he arrives at Carling’s Hampstead home and tells him he’s come for a little “compensation.” Carling assumes he’s asking for money and asks how much.
Oliver: “How much do you reckon it’ll cost for all those years in jail you framed me for? The girl who died waiting for me? All those others who committed suicide because of you? You used to enjoy watching people suffer. Surrounding yourself with nerve-racked, soul-stricken, humiliated creatures was your idea of fun, wasn’t it?”
Carling: “Why do you worry over them?”
Oliver: “I just happen to be one of them, that’s all.”
Next morning, Carling’s business partner Jack Kurton (Gregg) arrives at Carling’s house for a pre-breakfast appointment to find there’s no answer to his ringing of the doorbell.
Jack (Hubert Gregg), nervous as always about money.
With the assent of the local beat bobby, Jack breaks in and discovers a scene of brutal murder. After Inspector Mallory of the Yard (Middleton) and his sidekick, Sergeant Horton (Smith), have arrived on the scene, Jack is able to identify the battered corpse as that of Carling. Soon evidence emerges that Oliver is the killer, the deed done with a large, heavy, knobbly ornament from the mantelpiece.
Of course, The Third Visitor being a mystery movie, we know this isn’t so.
Oliver wasn’t the only person to come to Carling’s house last night. As we witnessed, Jack was there earlier, wanting to talk over some business. What Jack didn’t see was that the weasely Carling was acting in league with faux-respectable shyster Horobin (uncredited) and dodgy shrink Venner (likewise uncredited) to undermine him. The one thing that seemed to unnerve Carling was the news that someone called Hewson (see below) had been released from Venner’s psychiatric clinic.
Carling (Karel Stepanek) looks over the contract Jack has brought him.
Carling’s co-conspirators Horobin (left) and Venner (both uncredited).
Jack gets home to find that his wife Vera (Summerfield) has clearly been out all night. He finally locates her at the flat of their friends Steffy (Dresdel) and Bill Millington (Gordon); Steffy’s a part-time dress model and Bill’s a writer of detective stories who seems never actually to finish anything, so they’re very much on their uppers. However, the movie’s set in that strange 1950s alternate world where merely having no money didn’t mean you had to give up things like taxis—or, as we discover, whisky for breakfast!
The Millingtons–Steffy (Sonia Dresdel) and Bill (Colin Gordon).
Vera, however, hasn’t spent the night with the Millingtons, as she claims. She has persuaded them to lie to back up her story that she did. In fact, she arrived mere minutes before Jack phoned them. There’s an excellent scene in which Steffy takes that phonecall and the two women enact a charade to deceive Vera’s worried husband. As Bill says after watching this, he’s going to leave the lying to them hereafter; he’s a mere amateur beside them.
Vera (Eleanor Summerfield) seems guilty as sin.
Inspector Mallory pretty soon cottons on to the fact that Vera and the Millingtons are lying about her whereabouts, but they maintain the pretense until Vera breaks down and tells Jack the truth; she’s spent a night of sin, yes, but it wasn’t the sin we’ve all been assuming.
Inspector Mallory (Guy Middleton) interviews Jack (Hubert Gregg).
By now cured madman Hewson (Harvey, see above) has entered the tale, claiming Carling still has some important papers of his but seeming quite cheered up by the news that the man has been horribly slaughtered. Hewson was a builder who once did some work on Carling’s house. The rumor, according to Horton, is that Carling had Hewson build a secret chamber somewhere in the house and then tried to brick him up alive in it.
Just how bonkers is Hewson (Michael Martin Harvey)?
From here on I can’t tell you too much about the plot because that would spoil some of the surprises I mentioned earlier. One twist I can mention without, I think, spoiling anything is that Carling is a man who reinvented himself, having been sadistic concentration-camp Commandant Otto Steiner in a former guise.
Mallory’s faithful sidekick, Sergeant Horton (Cyril Smith).
I know very little about Gerald Anstruther, who wrote the play upon which this is based, but I enjoyed The Third Visitor sufficiently that I’m quite keen to track down the other screen adaptation of a play of his: Dangerous Afternoon (1961), dir Charles Saunders, with Ruth Dunning, Nora Nicholson and Joanna Dunham, sounds tremendous fun, as this one is.
Colin Gordon marginally overacts his role as irresponsible writer and initially one of the other actors seems likewise a bit unconvincing (until we realize that . . .), but all the rest are in quite splendid form. The cinematography’s nothing to write home about and in some moments it’s pretty slipshod but, with everything else working so well, who cares?
The evidence on the wall of Carling’s dining room.