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.

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