Like multi-author short story collections, I often find anthology films pretty hit-or-miss. There are usually a few great segments — and more that range from weak to alright.
I had higher hopes for Three Cases of Murder for a few reasons. First, it’s a genre in which I tend to at least somewhat-enjoy most of what I watch: the murder mystery. Add on a segment led by an Orson Welles performance and another directed by a woman (Wendy Toye), and I was convinced to give it a watch.
As the title suggests, Three Cases of Murder tells three murderous tales from stories by W. Somerset Maugham, Brett Halliday, and Roderick Wilkinson:
- “The Picture,” directed by Wendy Toye — in which a morbid museum houses strange, deadly worlds inside of its paintings
- “You Killed Elizabeth,” directed by David Eady — in which a woman is murdered, and the two men who loved her (who also happen to be best friends) both become suspects
- “Lord Mountdrago,” directed by George More O’Ferrall (and an uncredited Orson Welles) — in which Orson Welles stars as a British foreign secretary who makes enemies with the wrong man and becomes cursed
The screenplay was written by Ian Dalrymple, Donald Wilson, and Sidney Carroll. Alan Badel links the stories, appearing in all three of the film’s segments.
Toye’s segment is far and wide the film’s best. The premise that there are people secretly living in every painting is excellent, and Toye brilliantly brings to life that “eternity of coldness.” It’s spooky, ominous, and entirely brilliant.
After finishing the film, I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of Toye before… but the answer to that riddle soon became clear after researching her. Toye’s directorial credits include a smattering of television programs and vignettes, as well as just four full-length films. I’ve seen none of her full-length features, but certainly, I hope to seek them out now.
“You Killed Elizabeth” takes its time with background and build-up before getting to its murder, making it a bit less engaging than “The Picture” and zapping a bit of the film’s momentum. Once the real drama kicks in, though, the tension between the two suspects is fantastic.
Orson Welles kills it (as expected) in “Lord Mountdrago.” His character is described by another as “brilliant, but insufferable.” His segment is far sillier than the others (see: that “lost trousers” moment and the singing scene), but delightfully so. It’s plenty of fun to watch.
Throughout Three Cases of Murder, I enjoyed the supernatural bent to the stories. It made for highly enjoyable, seasonally-appropriate viewing when I watched the film back in October. And it’s one of the better anthology films I’ve seen, even though “The Picture” was my clear favorite of its segments!