Each year since the end of World War II, the surviving members of a resistance group have met on the anniversary of their leader’s execution by the Nazis, to commemorate his life and their time fighting together.
At the latest of these meetings, Colonel Price (Donald Wolfit) – who is hosting the meeting at his home – announces that a secret has been discovered: their leader’s death may have been carried out by the Nazis, but was only possible because a traitor in the group gave up information. An informant is headed to the house to reveal the identity of the traitor.
It becomes obvious that, whoever the traitor may be, he or she is desperate to keep their identity secret. When the informant arrives, he’s got a knife in his back and dies just after walking in the door.
Deciding not to get the police involved, Colonel Price and the others confine themselves to Price’s home and attempt to uncover the identity of the traitor-turned-murderer.
The Accursed, also released as The Traitor, was directed and written by Michael McCarthy (Mystery Junction). Alongside Wolfit, the ensemble cast includes Christopher Lee, Robert Bray, Jane Griffiths, Anton Diffring, and Carl Jaffe.
The film begins with one heck of an opening. A person begins shouting, and several run into a building, where they find a body hanging. Only the top of the rope, tied to the rafters, gives away the nature of the discovery.
After the credits roll, the viewer joins the get-together at Colonel Price’s house, and what follows is a fairly formulaic but also somehow gripping take on the “trapped in a dark old house with a killer” mystery. There’s no gore, and the pile of bodies left in the plot’s wake is quite small, but the character dynamics and complicated history of the group make for a fascinating watch.
The performances do a great job of bolstering the film’s appeal. Set within a confined space and very talky in its exploration of the central whodunit question, the film could have easily turned dull. While it does move very much like a stage play – which is usually not a compliment when discussing film, since films and plays are very different forms of art – the strong performances keep a firm hold on the viewer. The film is heavy on intrigue thanks to their performances and interactions. In particular, I was very impressed by Wolfit, Diffring, and Griffiths.
Though released in 1958, The Accursed is shot like a noir, which makes it all the more appealing. Several beautiful scenes appear to be lit only by fireplace flames, making the perfect setting for tense conversations between potential suspects. The photography is the cherry on top of an already-delicious mystery flick. I enjoyed this top-notch British mystery greatly.
The score: 5/5