The Third Secret (1964)

The Third Secret (1964)

The Third Secret (1964)

After watching countless thrillers over the years I’m not often surprised by a movie anymore, but Charles Critchon’s exceptional film The Third Secret (1964) really caught me off guard and impressed me with its compelling storyline and dramatic cinematography. In some ways it’s a very old fashioned mystery and the film looks like it could have been made 10 or even 20 years earlier. Instead of this being a distraction, I found the dated feel of the film as well as the somewhat stilted performances in it, perfectly suited to the movie’s overall style. The Third Secret borrows some of the most stylish elements of film noir and owes a lot to Hitchcock’s best thrillers, but there’s something entirely original about the film that grabbed my attention and kept me riveted to the screen until the credits rolled.

The Third Secret stars Irish actor Stephen Boyd and he gives an over-the-top tour de force performance here as an American television commentator named Alex Stedman who’s living and working in Britain. When Alex gets word that his psychiatrist has committed suicide he begins to unravel, but he puts his emotions on hold after the young daughter of the dead doctor begs Alex to help her solve the mystery of her father’s death. The girl doesn’t believe that her father committed suicide and she’s determined to find out who murdered him in order to honor his memory and claim her inheritance. Together this unlikely pair embark on a dark journey that will invade the private lives of the doctor’s disturbed patients and finally unveil the terrible mystery of The Third Secret.

The film features many critically acclaimed British actors such as the talented Sir Richard Attenborough and Jack Hawkins. Attenborough is especially memorable in the film as a troubled art dealer and his secretary is played by a very young Dame Judi Dench in one of her earliest screen roles. Actress Diane Cilento is also really wonderful in the film playing a tormented woman who Stephen Boyd carelessly uses in his quest to get at the truth of his doctor’s untimely death. Cliento doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but her affective performance provides the film with one of its most honest and heart-wrenching moments.

The doctor’s daughter is played beautifully by the British actress Pamela Franklin (The Innocents, The Nanny, And Soon the Darkness, etc.) and I think it’s easily one of her best roles. Pamela Franklin has long been one of my favorite actresses and the talent she displayed at such a young age is really remarkable. In The Third Secret Franklin is only 14, but she brings a lot of emotional depth and complexity to her role as the young distraught Catherine. Many adult actresses would not be able to deliver the kind of penetrating portrayal that 14-year-old Franklin demonstrates in The Third Secret.

Robert L. Joseph’s smart script is carefully constructed and Charles Crichton’s direction is very effective. But one of the most impressive things about The Third Secret is Douglas Slocombe’s brilliant cinematography. The film has a wonderfully eerie feel thanks to his ability to evoke a sense of terror from menacing shadows and his creative use of dynamic angles adds a lot of intensity to dramatic scenes. The acclaimed cinematographer had previously shot films such as Dead of Night (1945), Circus of Horrors (1960), Taste of Fear (1961) and The Servant (1963) so it should come as no surprise that Slocombe’s skills and experience are used to full effect in The Third Secret. The movie also boasts a creepy and compelling score by the acclaimed British composer Richard Arnell. Bernard Herrmann was one of Arnell’s biggest fans and often championed his work. I suspect that Arnell may have found inspiration in some of Herrmann’s own score’s for numerous Hitchcock films when he was composing the soundtrack for The Third Secret.

The Third Secret (1964)

The Third Secret (1964)

The Third Secret (1964)

The Third Secret was released on DVD from 20th Century Fox last year but for some strange reason it seems to have already gone out of print. You can still find used copies of the DVD <a href="selling at Amazon for $7-10 and the film should be available for rent at Netflix and Greencine.

If you’d like to see more images from the film you can find them in my Flickr Gallery for The Third Secret

*Originally published in Cinedelica 06.23.2007

7 thoughts on “The Third Secret (1964)

  1. Poor Boyd, he had a limited range of roles that wouldn’t bring out his outsize personality. He was pretty good in this one. I really liked him in “Ben Hur”, and my personal fave, “Lisa” – he was actually low-key and believable in that one. Pamela Franklin was more of a TV actress for me, but when she was young, she was the best child/teen star out there. The arc of her career was unusually sad for me – wasted on tedious roles as she got older, then she just vanished. No older adult roles for her.

  2. I can always count on you to turn up something I’ve never heard of that sounds like it could be my next favorite movie!

  3. Franklin did appear in a lot of great TV shows in the ’70s and some of us (at least me and Stacy of Final Girl fame) think The Food of the Gods was a pretty entertaining B-movie.

    She currently runs a rare bookshop in L.A. and devotes herself to collecting old books, which is pretty fabulous. If I had to choose between acting and running an old bookshop, I’d personally choose the bookshop!

  4. Just had to add this late but sincere thank you for alerting me to this film, Kimberly. Wow! I had never even heard of this before reading your irresistible article, but I immediately ordered a copy. Discovering (or in this case, being tipped off to) little gems like this is what watching movies is all about. A very offbeat, fascinating story filled with damaged, fragile characters. As you mentioned, it has a distinct film noir look in many scenes (I loved the photography in this film!)…I also thought it looked forward to the giallo in the scenes where mysterious empty houses are explored. I`ve been thinking about the film a lot since I watched it, the one thing that might have made it even more haunting would have been if a certain character had died after being stabbed near the end, imagine how shattering that would have been! Still, the film ends on a tragic note just the same. Boyd made a couple of decent spaghetti westerns, THE MAN CALLED NOON and THOSE DIRTY DOGS. Before this, that`s the first thing I thought of when his name came up, not anymore! Again, big thanks for the tip.

  5. Thanks for lengthy comment Andrew! I really appreciate it. I didn’t consider the giallo aspects of the film until you mentioned them, but I completely agree. It really does contain lots of elements that would later become popular in gialli films. Boyd is an interesting actor. I haven’t seen the two westerns he made, but now you’ve got me curious about them. I love Peter Collison’s work so I’ll try to give The Man Called Noon a look soon.

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