3 March 2009 | Bunuel1976
THE THIRD SECRET (Charles Crichton, 1964) ***
After a distinguished 15-year service for British cinema, director Charles Crichton (like several of his contemporaries) defected to TV at the start of the 1960s and only made the occasional feature film thereafter the most notable of which were this star-studded psychological thriller and his Oscar-nominated swan song, A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988). Irish actor-turned-Hollywood star Stephen Boyd plays the lead, an expatriate American newsman, who is engaged by precocious teenager Pamela Franklin to delve further into the mystery surrounding the would-be suicide of her celebrity psychiatrist father. She firmly believes that he was murdered by one of his very exclusive clientèle and pinpoints knighted Judge Jack Hawkins, mousy art dealer Richard Attenborough (who has a very young Judi Dench for his assistant) and insecure secretary Diane Cilento as the main suspects; a fourth was initially to have been played by Patricia Neal but her entire subplot was dropped prior to the film's release! After some initial trepidation (he does not want it known that he was also being treated by the dead psychiatrist) and anguish (feeling betrayed by the psychiatrist for abandoning him, he demolishes the latter's office in front of his daughter's very eyes!), Boyd approaches the 3 ex-patients who, understandably, are unwilling, unable or just too distraught (Cilento herself commits suicide after realizing the real reason why Boyd had slept with her) to be of any real use to him in the investigation. Consequently, when all available avenues seem to have led to a dead end, Boyd becomes cognizant of the possibility that the truth might be much closer to home than he at first suspected. Indeed, Franklin seems inexplicably hostile to her guardians (Rachel Kempson and Alan Webb) and bonds with Boyd instead through a game of 'complete the quotation' scribbled on walls (which she used to play with her late father). Co-written by its producer Robert L. Joseph, the film is, perhaps necessarily given the subject, full of pretentious chat but is also cleverly decked out with a Freudian dream sequence and the afore-mentioned starry cameos
which, actually, makes Pamela Franklin's outstanding performance all the more remarkable an achievement. Besides, in view of how the plot eventually works out, it is hard not to presume the influence of Orson Welles' fascinating MR. ARKADIN aka CONFIDENTIAL REPORT (1955) or the anticipation of Richard Rush's much-maligned COLOR OF NIGHT (1994)...