Mystery, Drama | 92 mins | Released: 1930
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Herbert Marshall, Norah Baring, Phyllis Konstram, Edward Chapman, Miles Mander, Esme Percy, Donald Calthrop
Our Rating: 6
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In Murder!, Diana Baring (Norah Baring), a young actress in a travelling theatre troupe, is found in a daze with blood on her clothes, standing by the murdered body of another young actress, Edna Druce. The fire poker used to commit the murder was at Diana’s feet, but she has no memory of what happened during the minutes the crime was committed. The two young women were thought to have been rivals, and the police arrest her. Diana withholds some important information deliberately, to protect something about the identity of a man that she will not name.
At her trial most of the jury are certain she is guilty. One or two feel that she may have a severe mental illness which meant that she really did have no memory of killing the other woman, but they are convinced that she should still be hanged lest she strike again. One juror, Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall), a celebrated actor-manager, seems sure she must be innocent, but is browbeaten into voting “guilty” along with the rest of the jury. Diana is imprisoned, and awaiting hanging.
Sir John feels responsible, as he was the one who had recommended that Diana take the touring job in order for her to get more life experience. It also turns out that Diana has been a fan of his since childhood. She is beautiful, and seems far too honest and straightforward to be a criminal of any kind. Using skills he has learned in the theatre, Sir John investigates the murder with the help of the stage manager Ted Markham (Edward Chapman) and his wife (Phyllis Konstam). They narrow the possible suspects down to one male actor in the troupe, Handell Fane (Esme Percy), who often plays cross-dressing roles.
Sir John tries to cleverly lure a confession out of Fane, by asking him to audition for a new play that Sir John has written, on the subject of the murder. Fane realises that they know he committed the crime, and have an understanding of how and why he did it. During the interaction we learn Fane’s secret: he is a half-caste, only passing as white. Fane leaves the audition without confessing, and goes back to his old job as a solo trapeze performer in a circus. Sir John and the others go there to confront him again. During his performance, from his high perch he looks down and sees them waiting. Despairing, he knots his access rope into a noose, slips it over his head and jumps to his death.
We then see Diana, free, and gloriously dressed in white furs, entering a beautiful room and being welcomed warmly by Sir John, who receives her as if he loves her. The camera pulls back and we realise we are watching the very last scene of a new play, possibly the new play, in which Diana stars opposite Sir John.
Murder! is a 1930 British drama film co-written and directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Herbert Marshall, Norah Baring and Edward Chapman. Written by Hitchcock, his wife Alma Reville and Walter C. Mycroft, it is based on a novel and play called Enter Sir John by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson. It was Hitchcock’s third all-talkie film, after Blackmail and Juno and the Paycock.
After being thought to be in the public domain for decades, the film’s rights were obtained by French media company Canal+ in 2005. A restored and remastered print of Murder! was released on DVD by Lionsgate Home Entertainment in 2007.
The film was made by British International Pictures. It was originally to be released under the same title as the novel, Enter Sir John, but this was changed to the simpler Murder! during shooting.
A number of changes were made from the book, including altering the names of the two principal characters. The portrayal of the character Sir John Mernier was loosely based on that of the actor Gerald du Maurier, who was a friend of Hitchcock.
Hitchcock makes his cameo appearance in the film as a man walking past the murder victim’s house.
In addition to the original music composed by John Reynders, the film uses the opening of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde prelude as background (supposedly a radio broadcast that Sir John is listening to) in the shaving scene.
For the filming, an orchestra played the music live on the set. Hitchcock described the filming of this scene to Francois Truffaut in the book-length interview Hitchcock/Truffaut (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967). In the early days of sound film, there was no way to post-dub sound, so Hitchcock had Herbert Marshall’s voice recorded on a phonograph record, which was played back during the filming of the scene, while the orchestra played the background music live (supposedly playing on the radio in Sir John’s bathroom).
This is the first movie where a person’s thoughts are presented on the soundtrack of the film.
The scene where Sir John thinks out loud in front of a mirror had to be filmed with a recording of the lines and a thirty-piece orchestra hidden behind the set as it was not possible to post-dub the soundtrack later.
A German version called Mary (1931) was filmed at the same time using German actors, but the same sets.
The first film of Esme Percy.
Handel Fane: “I assure you, Inspector, I’m not the other woman in this case.”
Old Woman: “People ought to be ashamed of themselves, kicking up all that racket at this time of night.”
Sir John Menier: “Ah, my dear, you must save those tears. They’ll be very, very useful in my new play.”