Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Signpost to Murder

Many years back, I watched a movie that had a very distinctive water wheel in it, but in more recent years I had forgotten the title, forcing me to look it up with IMDb's keyword search. It turned out the movie in question was Signpost to Murder. It was on TCM again recently, so I watched it to do a post on here.

Stuart Whitman plays Alex Forrester, who is locked up in a criminal insane asylum in a small English town, and has been for the last five years after murder his wife and kids. He thinks he's finally sane enough to be released, although that's going to be difficult, despite some support from the psychiatrist managing his case, Dr. Fleming (Edward Mulhare).

Unsurprisingly, at the competency hearing, Alex's application is turned down, leaving him wondering what to do next. That is, until Dr. Fleming rather stupidly drops a hint that the laws on criminal insanity in the UK have only been haphazardly updated, such that there's still a Victorian-era provision on the books that if someone escapes from the insane asylum and isn't caught for fourteen days, that person by law has the right to another competency hearing. So of course you know Alex is going to start thinking about escaping.

That night, he conks Fleming over the head and takes Fleming's coat, helping him to escape into the woods around the asylum. Except that in his haste to run to freedom, he accidentally runs into a branch, temporarily dazing him and giving a convenient excuse for him to not be certain if he really remembered something later in the movie. After a fair amount of running, he winds up at this isolated house with the water wheel, although why it's attached to a residential building I don't know.

Alex breaks into the house, and it turns out that there's currently only one occupant, Mrs. Molly Thomas (Joanne Woodward). Her husband goes on frequent business trips to the Continent as a diamond dealer, and he's away right now, although he's supposed to be back later in the evening. It's a bit of serendipity for Alex, who takes Molly hostage.

The hostage situation that would give rise to the term "Stockholm Syndrome" wouldn't occur for another decade, but Molly seems to begin to develop a bit of a relationship with Alex as the night goes on. In any case, it's clear that her marriage isn't all that it's cracked up to be, once she calls the airport and finds that there was no plane at the time she said her husband was supposed to be arriving.

Perhaps he took an earlier plane, but that would be just as worrying, since then he should be at the house by now. Things take a much more alarming turn when Alex sees a dead body on the water wheel, slashed across the throat just like he had done to his wife all those years ago. And it was supposedly the habit of Molly's husband to take the same lonely forest path back home that Alex was running on, so perhaps that could be Molly's husband and Alex killed him? Not that Molly saw the body, and she naturally begins to wonder whether Alex really is still insane.

Signpost to Murder is an interesting little programmer. It's got a surprisingly star-powered cast for a 1960s movie that runs a little under 80 minutes. Having been made in England, I'm wondering whether MGM had funds they had to use in the UK, or whether Woodward followed her husband over to Europe when he made Lady L and spent her time making this little film instead. The movie is based on a stage play, and the scenes at the house with the water wheel strongly imply that. However, the asylum scenes and some other stuff in town do open up the movie fairly well.

Unsurprisingly, Whitman is good here, although underrated as always. Woodward is good as well, and the supporting cast of British actors make Signpost to Murder a fairly good movie that's well worth a watch. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

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