Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Herbert Marshall, Norah Baring and Phyllis Konstam
At a boarding house for actors across from a theater, a body is found. The only suspect in the crime is Diana Baring, sitting in the same room with the body, claiming to have no memory of the deed.
The case quickly goes to trial and the jurors decide she’s either guilty or schizophrenic and a danger to others. In either case, she should be condemned.
However, one of the jurors has second thoughts. Sir John is a famous actor who begins to believe in the accused’s innocence and sets off to investigate with the help of a stage manager and his wife.
Sir John visits the scene of the crime and Diana's bedroom. He even visits her in prison. Will the trail lead to the killer? And what will the killer do once caught?
It should be no secret around here that 100 Years loves his Hitchcock. Many of the suspense master’s films are the reason I became interested in classic films in the first place.
So it’s with no small amount of disappointment that I report that Murder! is not a very good film.
At its core, we have a lot of the staples of a Hitchcock film. It’s a procedural with an unconventional character doing the detecting. It’s obsessed with identity and appearances. A lot of the fun technical Hitchcock touches are here as well. When his camera zooms or pans, it’s for a purpose. When he focuses in tight on the killer’s face at the end, it’s absolutely essential.
What the film lacks though is suspense and a compelling lead character.
In any whodunit like this, you want to build the tension and narrow the field of suspects. Well, Sir John never really investigates many suspects. He just meanders around town from scene to scene, assembling little clues. Nobody is overly concerned about his investigation or trying to stop him. It’s ponderous.
And Sir John himself turns out to be a bit of bore. His shtick is to use his theater training to suss out the mystery. So, for example, when the boarding house landlady swears the high pitched voice she heard had to be a woman, Sir John contrives to be in a separate room and talks in a female voice, fooling the landlady and demonstrating perhaps she was wrong.
It would be an interesting way of telling this tale if it were not so ham-handed. Sir John literally walks out of the room in full view of the landlady and a second later a voice that sounds like any guy impersonating a woman comes from the other room. It’s not proof that the voices arguing in the apartment; it’s proof that the landlady is a moron and that Sir John would be terrible in Tootsie.
The film is not suspenseful, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have moments of suspense. The climax of the film where the killer is wrestling with his guilt and the aftermath of that moment is nail-biting. We’re watching with bated breath to see not whether he’s the killer (we know he is), but what he’s going to do as the trap closes on him.
Still, after a promising opening, it’s a slog of cliché and exposition to get to the end. Murder! is necessary viewing for the Hitchcock completist, but that’s about as far as I’d go.
** out of *****