Murder! is definitely one of Alfred Hitchcock’s lesser films, but it deals with issues that make it interesting from a historical perspective.
Murder! is not Hitchcock’s finest work. In fact, Blackmail and The Lodger
were superior, let alone films like Psycho or The Birds. At times Murder! seems painfully slow, especially near the beginning. Still, every filmmaker has his (or her) missteps. This was relatively early in Alfred Hitchcock’s career, and it would have been difficult to capture the magic that was The Lodger.
What Is Murder! About?
When it comes down to it, Murder! is simply a murder-mystery film. A young actress, Diana Baring (Norah Baring), is accused of murdering a competitor named Edna Druce (Aileen Despard) with a fire poker. Diana’s found at the scene of the crime, unconscious and with no memory of what happened.
Actually, as far as she knows, she may have in fact committed the crime. She is arrested accordingly. However, it becomes apparent that she’s concealing information about a mystery man, including his very name.
Fortunately for her, one of her Jurors, John Menier (Herbert Marshall), becomes convinced of her innocence, despite convicting her. He sets out to investigate the complicated case. He also happens to be an actor-manager, and knows Diana.
This makes one wonder how he could rightfully serve on a Jury in a complicated murder case! Perhaps the British criminal justice system is different from America’s, but this seems like a major oversight, and it almost should make viewers feel some added unease. In fact, this film doesn’t really convey a sense of competency regarding the murder scene, either.
Even as the police are investigating the scene, a crowd shows up and, if memory serves correctly, no one bothers telling them to disperse. Well, obviously this can complicate (or even destroy) any forensic angle to the case.
Sure, forensic science wasn’t exactly incredible back in the early 1930s, but they at least had some ideas like taking fingerprints. To be fair, even today some forensic investigations are botched (For example, a sizable chunk of Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter details how the police messed up investigations, making it harder for him to nail Charles Manson and followers for the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders).
There are also some themes/revelations that would seem strange today, to say the least. Not only are some aspects of the film politically incorrect, but they don’t really make sense in the context of murder — or, if they could make sense, it’s not really explained how. It seems the viewer is supposed to merely say, “Ah, now I understand why the murder occurred!”Alfred Hitchcock – Murder – Courtesy of British International Pictures (BIP)
The film ends up assuming too much about the audience simply going along. Even if a modern viewer attempts to place themselves into the mindsets of the time, it just seems a bit sloppily managed (if you watch the movie, you’ll likely see what I mean here).
Taking the Good with the Bad
Murder! isn’t all bad. Baring’s acting makes us sympathize with her character, despite her being accused of murder and the viewers not necessarily knowing she’s innocent. Also, it actually addresses topics that would have been considered scandalous at the times (and no, I don’t mean murder — although that counts as well). Additionally, the film has a memorable ending, which definitely makes it closer to being a horror/thriller.
One can say this film was done in a clunky manner, but it’s interesting that it was done it all. Basically, this film proves that Hitchcock was willing to take risks with his projects, and this willingness would take us into much bigger classics further down the line.
It’s safe to say Murder! could grow on some viewers after repeated views, as there are possibly hidden layers that one could miss the first time. Still, when people think of Alfred Hitchcock, this is definitely not the first film people think of, and there are reasons for that. It also stars Phyllis Konstam, Edward Chapman, Miles Mander and Esme Percy.
What are your thoughts on Murder! and Alfred Hitchcock? Let us know in the comments!