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3 Acts of Murder (ATOM Study Guide)

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Set in the early years of the Great Depression, 3 Acts of Murder tells a riveting true story of solitary outback life, hard working men, friendship, storytelling and murder. First World War veteran and would-be crime novelist, Arthur W. Upfield (Robert Menzies), ekes out an existence as a boundary rider overseeing 163 miles of rabbit-proof fence. As he trudges mile after mile through harsh and unforgiving land, with only a couple of camels for company, Arthur works up story ideas for his fictional super sleuth, Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony for short).

Upfields section of fence stretched from Burracoppin in the south, to Camel Station, Dromedary Hills, at the 163 mile peg. Run by a cheerful old drunk called George Ritchie (Bille Brown), its a place where Arthur is always guaranteed a cup of tea, perhaps a meal, some cards and conversation. Arthur, or Uppie to his mates, is attempting to plot the perfect murder for Bony to solve, in a book that will ultimately be published as The Sands of Windee. Arthurs friend, trapper Snowy Rowles (Luke Ford), doesnt appear to take much part in the general discussions about corpse disposal. But some two years later, Snowy is arrested and charged with murder, and it becomes apparent that his crimes were executed in just the unusual fashion outlined in Upfields novel. Fictional crime has become a fatal reality. Arthur is forced to consider whether he is implicated in Rowles crimes. The notoriety surrounding the sensational trial guarantees huge publicity for Upfield, in effect launching his writing career, and he must ponder the moral implications of this. Is he somehow accountable? He continues to feel great loyalty and affection for the younger man. In a book published after the events depicted in this film, Arthur wrote of Snowy: Eager to perform his share of the camp chores, a cheerful loser at cards, generous in his opinion of others, always neatly dressed and cleanly shaved, he was welcomed wherever he went an odd portrait of a murderer!

Snowy Rowles was executed in June of 1932 at the age of twenty-six. Upfield lived until 1964 and went on to become one of Australias most successful crime writers. He published over thirty novels, was translated into more than forty languages and was the first non-American writer admitted to the Mystery Writers Guild of America.

Directed by Rowan Woods, 3 Acts of Murder is a fine achievement in Australian filmmaking. It features gripping performances from its talented cast; a subtle and detailed evocation of time and place; a masterful command of tone; and an intelligent, spare script full of nuance and ambiguity.

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