Murder! (1930)


(director/writer: Alfred Hitchcock; screenwriters: from the novel “Enter Sir John” by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson/Walter Mycroft/Alma Reville; cinematographer: Jack Cox; editor: Rene Marrison; music: John Reynders; cast: Herbert Marshall (Sir John Menier), Norah Baring (Diana Baring), Phyllis Konstam (Doucie Markham), Edward Chapman (Ted Markham), R.E. Jeffrey (Foreman of the Jury), Miles Mander (Gordon Druce), Esme Percy (Handel Fane), Donald Calthrop (Ion Stewart), Marie Wright (Miss Mitcham); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Maxwell; Whirlwind; 1930-UK)
“It’s enjoyable on its own terms, but is a far cry from Hitch’s better films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Alfred Hitchcock (“Topaz”/”To Catch a Thief”/”Rear Window “) bases this rare whodunit for him on the novel “Enter Sir John” by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson. The screenplay is by Walter Mycroft and Alma Reville, which depends on its conclusion to be acceptable, like a Charlie Chan episode, rather than the development of the story. This early Hitchcock film, made in England, features the Master’s famous touches, clever wit (poking fun at the lower-class) and propensity for using gadgets. It’s enjoyable on its own terms, but is a far cry from Hitch’s better films.

It’s set in the theater world. In a boarding house that borders the local theater, the actress in that theater, Edna Druce, is bludgeoned to death with a fireplace poker and another actress from that same company, Diana Baring (Norah Baring), is found sitting in a stupor at the crime scene with a bloody dress, an empty brandy bottle and the murder weapon at her side. She’s indicted for the crime, as it’s assumed she was guilty because she didn’t deny it. She can’t remember what happened, and at her trial pleads innocent. The jury has a vigorous debate over her fate, but believe circumstantial evidence is enough to give her the death sentence. Sir John (Sir John), the famous actor-playwright, is impressed by Diana’s demeanor on the stand and believes she’s telling the truth, but goes along with the other guilty votes because he finds no logical reason to vote not guilty. Later, when she’s sentenced to be hanged, he has guilt feelings over not following his convictions and decides to investigate. He elicits the help of the stage manager and his wife (Edward Chapman & Phyllis Konstam), and it becomes obvious that there was a third party who entered the room undetected and committed the murder. Through Sir John’s efforts the real killer is revealed to be a gay transvestite cross-dresser acrobat and actor in the same company as the victim, Handel Fane (Esme Percy), who strikes Edna before she can poisonously tell Diana, the woman he loves, that he’s a half-caste.

Marshall’s fine thesp work and the glossy look of the film, help cover a weak denouement, its lack of suspense and a so-so B film story.