Orson Welles stars as MP Lord Mountdrago in the final part of the British mystery anthology Three Cases of Murder, and he is rumored to have largely directed the segment as well—and its intensity, riveting suspense and brilliant wit all lend credence to the rumor. George More O’Ferrall, the credited director, worked almost entirely in television.
Mountdrago and Owen are political adversaries in the House of Commons; Mountdrago devastates the young man with a swiping speech, provoking his threat of certain revenge: “I can crush your proud spirit, and I will.” Mountdrago begins having anxiety dreams involving Owen’s mockery of him, and in Mountdrago’s waking reality Owen himself seems aware of these dreams, to which he mockingly alludes, eventually unhinging Mountdrago, who sees a psychiatrist. Mountdrago denies feeling any guilt for having earlier struck down Owen’s idealism and career. Mountdrago determines to murder Owen in his next dream in order to “escape” his taunts. Will this do the trick?
W. Somerset Maugham wrote the story upon which the Poe-like segment is based. Welles is superb as Mountdrago; Alan Badel, a limited actor with little presence, in addition to playing Owen plays a different character in each of the other segments. In “In the Picture,” directed by Wendy Toye,* Badel is the anonymous painter of a blustery period landscape, including a house, that hangs in a museum. This “Mr. X” lives in that house; he is constantly breaking the painting’s glass cover in order to leave the painting and check out the effect of each new change he has made to it in his pursuit of perfection. He is also in the habit of guiding individuals into the house in the painting, where a mad taxidermist adds these to his ghoulish collection. Badel plays a bartender in the middle segment, the whodunit “You Killed Elizabeth,” directed by David Eady. Like the first segment, it is good (although disappointingly resolved); but the third one is what makes the show.
* Dance critic Mindy Aloff has written me the following:
Wendy Toye—a lifelong friend of the dancer Frederic Franklin (still performing mime parts with American Ballet Theatre in his 96th year)—was a professional choreographer at age 16.
A real prodigy.
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