MURDER AT 3 AM Renown Pictures, UK, 1953; Ellis Films, US, 1955. Dennis Price (Inspector Peter Lawton), Peggy Evans, Rex Garner, Philip Saville, Leonard Sharp. Director: Francis Searle.

   Save for a trickle of recognition for Dennis Price, the leading man in this low budget British semi-thriller, the cast of Murder at 3 am was totally unknown to me. I think you may have had to be there — England in the early 1950s — for any of them to have made a lasting impression on you.

   Not that they didn’t do a professional job of ii. The budget may have been small and the story riddled with clichés, but there’s nothing in this film that you can lay any criticism of the cast to.

   The last of a series of robberies of well-to-do women, their money and jewelry stolen from them at the doorsteps as they arrive home at night, has ended in the death of one of them, putting a lot of pressure on Scotland Yard in general and Inspector Peter Lawton in particular.

   What the robberies have had in common is that they all took place at 3 am, and the women were all coming home alone in cabs from various night clubs in the area. What the new fiancé of the inspector’s sister, a budding mystery writer, discovers, however, is that the first letters of the names of the night clubs spell out P-L-A-Y-…, which suggests where the killer may strike next.

   We are traipsing on Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen territory here. Unfortunately additional clues start pointing to the fiancé himself as the one responsible for the crimes. I spoke of clichés up there earlier. The denouement is one of the oldest in the books.

   But what can I tell you? I both noted the limitations of the story and then ignored them, and I enjoyed the movie anyway.