BLOOD ORANGE. Hammer Films, UK, 1953. Released in the US as Three Stops to Murder (Astor Pictures, 1953). Tom Conway, Mila Parély, Naomi Chance, Eric Pohlman, Andrew Osborn, Richard Wattis. Screenplay: Jan Read. Director: Terence Fisher. Currently available on YouTube (embedded below).

   This low budget private eye mystery has a surprisingly decent plot going for it, though it never quite amounts to much, despite a good cast.

   Far from Film Noir it’s more in a minor Peter Cheyney key as a designer fashion house in London is robbed of the jewels used by their models, jewels on loan from vaguely foreign Mr. Mercedes (Eric Pohlman, the voice of Blofield in the early Bonds and a noted character actor), whose personal investigator arrives at the same time as Inspector McLeod of the Yard (bespectacled Richard Wattis as an unlikely Scotland Yard Inspector).

   That private detective is former FBI agent Tom Conway (and yes, Tom Conway plays Tom Conway in this one, no doubt in an attempt to connect in British viewers minds with his role as Tom Falcon in the Falcon series).

   Helen Pascall (Mira Parély) owns the shop and is the designer, and blonde Gina (Naomi Chance) is her top model. Partner in the business is suave but broke clubman Captain Simpson, a ladies man (Andrew Osborn, and I suspect like me you will be hard put to see what the fuss is about though all the women are devoted to him).

   At the shop the morning after the robbery is a middle aged peeress who claims when she was there the day before she saw two of her own jewels among the stones in Mercedes collection, and shortly after that Mercedes decides he doesn’t want Conway wasting time investigating the theft.

   Conway, being American, and a private eye, doesn’t listen and is there the night of the upcoming show when one of the models plunges to her death wearing a blood orange gown designed by Helen Pascall from a defective railing Conway saved Simpson from earlier in the day.

   When the woman who claimed to have seen her stolen jewels is murdered, also in a blood orange gown, after a visit by Conway it starts to look bad for him since bodies keep showing up at his feet, and when he finds a third model murdered again in a blood orange gown his relationship with reserved McLeod deteriorates further.

   The police are suspicious of Mr. Mercedes (Pohlman is subdued, but not bad in the closest thing to a colorful performance in the film save for the killer who I won’t give away), and Conway is getting too close to something so his own boss ends up kidnapping him only for a police raid to throw Mercedes off. Mercedes fakes having a bomb and escapes, and Conway ends up in custody suspected of being in with Mercedes who it turns out was an international crook with a record across the world using his business interest in the fashion house to launder money and re-cut stolen jewels.

   Then Mercedes is murdered, no doubt by an unsuspected partner, and Conway has to set a dangerous trap for a killer who has killed four people and who is willing to kill again.

   And in fairness, it is a pretty good trap, replete with a twist that I admit I did not see coming, and which made complete sense. In fact that is why I bothered to review this one at all.

   Jealous lovers, criminal conspiracy, and a ruthless killer are the key ingredients here.

   Admittedly Conway is tired by this point in his career (and drinking heavily), and while he still wears a trench coat well, he is not at his best. While there are some good scenes, especially between Conway and Naomi Chance as the sophisticated model Gina, there is nothing here that really clicks though the plot is more than serviceable for the short running time.

   A tighter script, and less tired leading man, and a few touches of directorial flare would have boosted this immensely. As it is it kills an hour not unpleasantly even if it is instantly forgettable.

   Probably the most interesting thing about this film is the studio where it was made, legendary Hammer, well before its horror days, and the director, Terence Fisher, who would helm many of the horror films that put Hammer on the map. Beyond that it is little more than a B programmer with a better than usual cast and some decent sets.

   Frankly, while still a pro, Conway often looks as if he would prefer to sit down and have a drink, giving his brother George Sanders a run for bored and indifferent.