B&W, 1964, 102 mins. 47 secs.
Directed by Charles Crichton
Starring Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Richard Attenborough, Pamela Franklin, Diane Cilento, Paul Rogers
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Fox (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Though it sounds like one of the many "Hitchcock lite" thrillers that poured out during the 1960s, the British-American co-production The Third Secret is a rather different, tricky beast that still hasn't quite found the audience it deserves. That may be because it's as much a moody character piece as a traditional suspense film, with its sparse shock moments framed by a dark and eventually perverse meditation on the secrets everyone hides, often without their own knowledge.
In a setup later revisited in more lurid fashion in Color of Night, a prominent London psychoanalyst, Dr. Whitset, dies under mysterious circumstances -- namely a fatal gunshot to the temple that may or may not be suicide. His final words, "Blame no one but me," lead one of his patients, American expatriate TV commentator Alex Stedman (The Man Called Noon's Boyd), to interpret the words as indicated guilt-induced foul play, a view shared by the dead man's teenage daughter, Catherine (The Innocents' Franklin). They decide to team up, with Catherine providing the names of a trio of active patients to investigate: Sir Frederick Belline (Zulu's Hawkins), a judge; art gallery manager Alfred Price-Gorham (10 Rillington Place's Attenborough); and secretary Anne Tanner (The Wicker Man's Cilento). However, as Alex digs deeper he starts to uncover secrets far more disturbing than he could have ever imagined.
An eerie little gem, The Third Secret is helped immeasurably by its striking CinemaScope lensing by the great cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, who gives it an expansive, beautifully artistic look reminiscent of the then-recent art house hit Sundays and Cybelle and his own work on John Huston's Freud (appropriately enough). Though Boyd is perfectly acceptable in his role, it's the rest of the cast that really excels here with Franklin in particular standing out with another in her remarkable roster of juvenile performances. Hammer fans will also get a kick out of a small role for Freda Jackson, the venerable English actress who had a standout role in The Brides of Dracula -- and keep your eyes peeled for a very young Judi Dench as Attenborough's assistant. This was also one of the most internationally prestigious films for director Charles Crichton, who cut his teeth on a string of Ealing films (including Dead of Night and The Lavender Hill Mob) and later scored a major success with A Fish Called Wanda.
The Third Secret made its worldwide Blu-ray debut from Indicator in 2019 in a limited 3,000-unit edition that will likely mark its definitive release for a very long time and makes for a substantial upgrade over its earlier 2007 DVD edition from Fox (which featured only a trailer and still gallery). The transfer look superb throughout with no significant flaws to report; black levels, film grain, and detail levels are all satisfying and much better than the comparatively fuzzy SD predecessor. The LPCM English mono audio is also in solid shape with optional English SDH subtitles provided. The film can also be played with four additional audio options, starting with a new audio commentary with film historians Dean Brandum and Eloise Ross. Only scene specific in a few moments, it's an interesting, extended meditation on the merits of the film, the connections to other thrillers of the era (especially Psycho), and the backgrounds of the many players involved. "The BEHP (British Entertainment History Project) Interview with Charles Crichton" from 1988 plays over the whole running time as well with the director conversing with Sidney Cole about his entire career and approach to cinema, while "The BEHP Interview with Douglas Slocombe - Part One, The Early Years" (also recorded in '88 with Cole) is a similarly expansive career retrospective including his own tenure at Ealing and the approaches of transitioning between color and black-and-white. An isolated music and effects track is also included. On the video extras side, the new "Crichton on Crichton" (7m25s) features third assistant director David Crichton chatting about his father's techniques at this point in his career, while second assistant director Kits Browning chimes in with "An Unconscionable Thing" (4m53s) about working on the set included Franklin being chaperoned around. Then focus puller Robin Vidgeon appears for "Mr. Slocombe's Mattress" (6m30s) to discuss his adaptive cinematographer and the collaborative relationship between Slocombe and Crichton. Finally "Lost Souls" (21m42s) is a lengthy analysis of the film and its use of secrets as a multilevel unifying theme courtesy of critic Neil Sinyard. Finally the disc rounds out with the theatrical trailer (in excellent HD quality) and a gallery of production and promotional photos, all packaged with the usual substantial insert booklet featuring new liner notes by Robert Murphy, an archival Boyd interview, notes on the film by Robert L. Joseph, and contemporary critical responses.
Reviewed on June 3,