Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Third Alibi, The (1961)

Main image of Third Alibi, The (1961)
35mm, 68 minutes, black & white
DirectorMontgomery Tully
Production CompanyEternal Films
ProducerMaurice J. Wilson
ScriptMaurice J. Wilson
 Montgomery Tully
Original PlayPip & Jane Baker
PhotographyWalter J. Harvey

Cast: Laurence Payne (Norman Martell); Patricia Dainton (Helen Martell); Jane Griffiths (Peggy Hill); Edward Underdown (Dr Murdoch); John Arnatt (Superintendent Ross); Cleo Laine (guest artist)

Show full cast and credits

A composer wants to commit the perfect murder.

Show full synopsis

Little has been written of 'B' Picture director Montgomery Tully. Wheeler Winston Dixon, until recently the only film historian to champion Tully's work, described him in a long article in Classic Images in 1994 as "perhaps the least heralded of the British program directors". Even the enthusiastic Dixon considered that, by the 1960s, Tully's career was winding down, and that he was, by then, directing "indifferent detective thrillers". However, The Third Alibi (1961), an unusual, ingenious and effective film, belies this view.

Tully's career as a director stretched back into the 1930s. On the evidence of his ambitious social problem picture, Boys in Brown (1949), it looked like Tully might establish himself as a director of 'A' Pictures; but it was not to be. In 1954, Tully went to work for the Merton Park studio, which specialised in 'B' Picture production. Amongst his assignments were various films in the Scotland Yard series, each of which he shot in less than a week. Partly thanks to his own speed and efficiency, his fate was sealed.

In his best work, sometimes writing and directing, he introduced strange and unusual narrative elements into what might otherwise have been mundane supporting-feature genre product. The Third Alibi, although not as outlandish as some of its predecessors, and not written by Tully (it came from the pens of husband and wife writing team Pip and Jane Baker, who later wrote for Z Cars, Space 1999 and Dr Who), is an entertaining and stylistically representative late addition to Tully's odd canon. It centres around a complex murder plot planned by a tormented artist (in this case, a hot-blooded composer), and boasts an unusual focus on the intricacies of modern technology -in this case, what was then a state-of-the-art tape recorder - to be used to establish a watertight alibi for the dreadful deed. Whilst satisfying as a conventional genre piece, the odd twists of the narrative and the film's taut construction neatly emphasise how the mundane precision of modern day living and the illusion of domestic normality can suddenly be made strange - or entirely shattered - by unexpected events.

A precise and methodical man, Tully thoroughly storyboarded his films before shooting began. The Third Alibi benefits distinctly from the assured economy of his direction. Compact, low-key, but exciting - and including an evocative sequence that reveals the interior of a splendid cinema - this later work is, characteristically, constructed with precision; and moves smoothly and swiftly towards an effective and ingenious denouement.

Vic Pratt

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Adultery and intrigue (4:20)
2. The plot thickens (2:04)
3. Tape recorder alibi (2:34)
B Pictures