Saturday, August 31, 2013

Alfred Hitchcock Month

Tomorrow is September 1, which means a new month and new programming features on TCM. One of these is Alfred Hitchcock running much of the day on each of the five Sundays in September. This includes several of the silents, which I'm not certain have aired on TCM before. It's also going to include the one film from Hitchcock's American career that I don't think has ever been on TCM before, Lifeboat. (Lifeboat, in fact, is getting two airings; one on a Sunday and one as a TCM Essential.) But, before that, the month is kicking off tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM with Hitchcock's 1930 British flim Murder!

The movie opens up with the titular murder. Or, at least, just after the murder. Diana Baring (played by Norah Baring) is an actress who is at the scene, and that, combined with circumstantial evidence, is enough to put her in a very sticky situation when it comes time for the trial. Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall) is the foreman of the jury, and he's not quite comfortable with the idea of convicting Baring on circumstantial evidence, especially in a case that carries the death penalty. However, in a jury-room scene in which Hitchcock experiments with sound by having the other jurors repeating "What do you think of that, Sir John?", Sir John gets worn down, eventually voting to convict. Poor Diana

But, in that old movie trope, somebody who's had a part in convicting a defendant just isn't so sure of the defendant's guilt, and tries to solve the case himself! Now, in real life, there's no good reason why somebody trained as an actor like Sir John ought to be able to find the real murderer, and certainly not in the fashin he does. More likely to do it would be a journalist like the one Rex Harrison played in the recently-mentioned Storm in a Teacup. But if it weren't for Sir John, we wouldn't have a story. Needless to say, Sir John solves the case, just before the planned execution (oh, there's another trope; the just-in-time rescue). It should be pointed out that unlike a lot of Hitchcock's later work, Murder! is a mystery, and not a suspense thriller. In later movies such as Saboteur, we know pretty darn early who the bad guy is; here, we don't find out until close to the end.

This is a very early Hitchcock sound film, so he, like all directors, was working out the difficulties of filming a talking picture. For the most part, that's not where any problems this movie has lie. In fact, the aforementioned scene in the jury room, and one that has Sir John's thoughts audible while he was silent to anybody in the scene are inventive for 1930, if incredibly pedestrian today. (Actually, the jury room scene could easily be seen as a timeless message about bullying. Some things never seem to change.) If the movie has problems, it's in the script. The murderer's motivation is silly, since it had to be changed from the original story and play on which the movie is based. And the murderer's confession seems a little too convenient.

Murder! is available on DVD, in several releases.

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