Sunday, 18 August 2019

Mind craft… The Third Secret (1964)

Let’s get this out the way from the start: the First Secret you keep from others, the Second Secret you keep from yourself, and the Third Secret is the truth. This applies to the everyday as much as the narrative in this smart psychodrama directed by the venerable Charles Crichton and starring Hollywood’s favourite Ulsterman, Stephen Boyd and the precocious Pamela Franklin – just 14 at the time of filming but carrying so much old emotion; a remarkable performance.

The film has elevated production values, with some glorious shots of the Thames side near Kew at Strand-on-the-Green where a lot of the action happens although when I say “action” I mean deep pondering set against the wide-grey waters and a poignant monochrome sky… Boyd is adept a brooding and carries an energy that suggests he is not only capable of dynamic action but also destruction and this much we see in one sequence where he trashes an apartment, accidentally making a small cut on the face of his young friend, Catherine.

Pamela Franklin and Stephen Boyd
The girl herself is fascinating as an actress and a character; not many teenagers could pull of the emotional conflictions she does and create the impression of violent damage as well as something deeply hidden… the “third secret” is one you can hold from yourself.

Catherine’s father, prominent London psychoanalyst Dr. Leo Whitset, is discovered fatally injured from a gunshot wound and as he dies, he whispers, "Blame no one but me." It looks like suicide and the coroner agrees but his closest patients tend to disagree. Boyd plays Alex Stedman, an investigative TV reporter haunted by demons and drink but still driven by a need to seek the truth. Catherine and he share a bond and she turns up at the studios to plead for his help in investigating what she is convinced is murder.

Stephen Boyd and Nigel Davenport
For a dynamic reporter, Alex certainly has a lot of self-doubt but I guess that’s why he was seeing Dr Whitset, but his need to restore his friend’s reputation is almost as important as the need to find his killer. Chief suspects look to be anyone of the Professors’ regular customers which just so happen to include Alex…

Aside from the angry, unpredictable journalist, there’s Alfred Price-Gorham (Richard Attenborough) who runs an elite art gallery, Sir Frederick Belline (the great Jack Hawkins) a high-level judge and Anne Tanner (Diane Cilento) a nervous secretary completely lacking in self confidence or resilience…The suspects are all impressive enough and what’s interesting is Alex flawed approach in investigating them. He’s no Sherlock Holmes even though he’s smart, solving the riddles that Catherine keeps on chalking on the walls of bankside near her home.

Richard Attenborough
At Price-Gorham’s gallery, Alex strikes up an encouraging conversation with his PA, Miss Humphries (Judi Dench in her first big screen role, before co-starring in the following year’s Four in the Morning). Her boss is a frustrated artist and trying to sneak his own work amongst the more established artists on show. Alex decides he’s an unlikely suspect based on his fear of elderly and opinionated customers… but you never know, he was working on a portrait of the professor.

Next Alex takes his “professional” interest in the case far too far in a one-night stand with the very vulnerable Anne Tanner (Diane Cilento) … it doesn’t end well and, as with his first interview leads us no closer to the chief suspect. It serves to show how “vulnerable” Alex is and how, if anything, he’s just another one of the four main characters who has lost their therapist.

Diane Cilento and Mr Boyd
The same is true of his eventual meeting with Sir Frederick who, whilst he undoubtedly has many things to hide, is not about to break down and deliver.

All of which leads us back to the Thames and the word games and pensive silences between Alex and Catherine… she in search of a father figure and he, possibly even unsure whether he’s a suspect. It’s a film that undermines the traditional string male lead and, whilst it meanders, leads us all down a false trail on purpose.

Dusty verdict: The Third Secret is well directed by Charles Crichton with some subtly stunning cinematography from Douglas Slocombe; if it feels less than the sum of its parts that’s possibly because there’s not enough meat in the character’s motivations outside of their internal crises. It’s perhaps too introverted for its own good.

The denouement is dramatic and might catch the unwary… it leaves a feeling of unease, something that could have been more prevalent earlier for despite itself, the film doesn’t have enough suspense or action.

Young Judi
That said, the acting is superb and none more so than from Pamela Franklin. There’s also a good supporting cast including Rachel Kempson, Peter Sallis and the ever-superb Nigel Davenport as Alex’s boss! Well worth seeking out now that it’s on Blu-ray.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

The Gods Hate Berkshire… They Came from Beyond Space (1967)

Oh, this is some fast-paced fun from start to finish with Freddie Francis directing this at a canter, with hardly any budget and with a plot that feels loose, and almost improvised! It’s got a great poster with a group of sexy aliens menacing the Earth but it can’t quite live up to the imagination of the graphic design and commercial artist even though all involved give it their best shot.

They Came from Beyond Space is based on The Gods Hate Kansas, a 1941 novel from the American sci-fi writer, Joseph Millard. Made directly after Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966), the film uses some sets and props off that film although none of the pepper pot aliens, favouring a more existential threat posed by a species that takes over human minds with the aid of some psychedelic affects and noisy electronica. It’s effective enough although what the aliens are actually up to isn’t necessarily that clearly logical.
It all begins with the mysterious appearance of several meteorites all descending to Earth, a space research station looking a little like Jodrell Bank (but is actually in New South Wales), tracks the event and sends a team to investigate. The senior scientist, Dr. Curtis Temple (Robert Hutton), cannot accompany his colleagues as he – being a classic car enthusiast – has had a metal plate inserted in his skull following a particularly nasty prang in his nippy-but-risky Bentley.

As he stays behind, his brainy love interest Lee Mason (Jennifer Jayne), heads off with Richard Arden (Bernard Kay) and the rest. Arriving at the site they see the meteors buried in a filed, the rocks begin to glow and suddenly a light fills the scientists’ eyes, the screen swirls and they stare intently having been taken other by alien will.

Jennifer Jayne is taken over...
The other-worldly brain-nappers move quickly as alien-Lee extracts a more than generous loan from the Lloyds Bank in Cookham High Street whilst others return to the research station to take a “science-drawing” that has cleverly worked out that the rocks had originated on the Moon. The aliens encounter Temple but, unable to be controlled with his cranial metal protection, he is knocked unconscious and they escape.

Temple and the teamwork out strange movements of goods towards a farm in Berkshire and he sets off to investigate. He meets a striking short-haired platinum blonde at a patrol station (Luanshya Greer) and the two flirt like anything because, er, he’s an alpha male cool dude and she’s a rather forward kind of gas girl.

Baby you can drive my car...  Luanshya Greer
Temple finds that the aliens have already set up a heavily defended base of their own, he tries to force his way through but the odds are too great and Lee emerges to tell him he’s not wanted. He encounters a British Intelligence officer who is tracking all the comings and goings from the base but, after holding up in the finest inn Cookham has to offer, the man dies launching a slightly random sub-plot involving a biochemical attack from the aliens. There’s even a guest appearance from Kenneth Kendall as a TV report, which is a nice touch.

As people die, Temple has another go at the aliens’ base and succeeds in gaining entry to their subterranean sanctuary where he gets locked up by the now evil Richard Arden after discovering a rocket ship under construction. Temple escapes and manages to extract Lee, locking her up in the trunk of his car as she is still under the influence.

Kenneth Kendall reporting
 He takes her to his friend Farge (Zia Mohyeddin) who is something like Brains and something of a specialist in alien mind control… or at least not phased too much by it. Farge and Temple manage to exorcise Lee’s possessor and realise that silver is the solution: it blocks and weakens the aliens. Temple’s skull plate is silver – which explains everything – and Farge sets about creating protective headgear for their return to the aliens’ base.

Ah, but when do we get to meet the real aliens, I hear you ask? Well, there are all kinds of revelations to come before the full story is revealed by Michael Gough – the Master of the Moon and the film freestyles its way towards an interesting denouement which doesn’t follow the usual path of stand-off and destruction…

Zia Mohyeddin with alien-proof helmet
Dusty Verdict: They Came from Beyond Space is rainy-day fun and has some style even with a threadbare plot. The actors do the best they can with Robert Hutton especially impressive proving that at 47 you can still be a leading man. He had form with this kind of film having starred in The Slime People (1963) as well as Invisible Invaders (1959) both of which look classy!

They Came from Beyond Space is available on DVD from Studio Canal and is worth seeking out at a reasonable price.

Michael Gough is the Master of the Moon
Postscript: Why exactly do the Gods hate Kansas? “For a reason no scientist can explain, more stony meteorites strike little Kansas than any other place on Earth. One-third of all known North American aerolite falls, and one-sixth of those reported in the world, have been in Kansas...”

Joseph J. Millard, The Gods Hate Kansas (1941)