Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Murder Man

Going through my DVR to clear some space, I found another movie that's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive so I can do a full-length post on it: The Murder Man.

Spencer Tracy, not long after moving to MGM from Fox, is the star here, although he doesn't show up until a little ways in. The opening is set in the investment firm of Halford and Mander. This is one of those Depression-era firms that took clients' money and invested it rather too riskily, on inside information or on hot bonds, losing money for a lot of clients who were understandably pissed as a result. Indeed, Halford finds that Mander (Harvey Stephens) has taken a bunch of money out of the firm to buy some bonds, and that's the breaking point. Later that evening, Halford is found shot to death.

Meanwhile, another very brief scene that really only makes sense at the end involves a woman who jumps to her death from a ferry, drowning in the river. It's only after these opening scenes that we get to meet Tracy, who is playing star reporter Steve Grey. However, Steve isn't doing any reporting just now, going on the mother of all benders. His editor (Robert Barrat) is looking for him, though, because of Halford's murder.

You see, Steve is known as "the murder man", a name he's gotten because he seems to be good not only at getting the evidence that convicts people, the way that somebody like Torchy Blane over at Warner Bros. did, but because he's able to get that information to the public before anybody else -- sometimes including the police -- can. It leads to his constantly scooping all the other reporters.

Now, Mander is an obvious suspect in the Halford murder, but so are a host of other people, all those investors who had their money stolen by the firm. But Steve overhears that Mander and Halford had an insurance policy that if one of the two died, the other would get a big payout, and Steve puts two and two together. He figures out the audacious scheme that Mander went to a shooting gallery and used one of the gallery's rifles to kill Halford across the street!

This case caused a strain on Steve, however, because after it's over and Mander is sent to the chair, Mander just wants to go off and drink and write a book. Mander, however, is granted an interview on the day he's supposed to be executed, and Steve's editor is insistent that he do the interview, thereby dragging him back into the case he wanted to forget about, and setting up the interesting ending.

The Murder Man is, despite Tracy's leading the cast, strictly a programmer. As I said at the beginning it was one of his first films at MGM, and it would take another year until San Francisco and Libeled Lady that's he'd become a prestige movie star. Tracy was already quite good, having honed his craft over the previous five years at Fox, and does a fine job here. Virginia Bruce plays an advice columnist for the paper and on-again, off-again girlfriend. James Stewart, at the very beginning of his career, plays another reporter. Overall, however, I think the more notable thing about the movie is the turn the plot takes. And that plot certainly makes the movie watching.

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