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Murder!

A primitive early British sound-film mystery featuring Herbert Marshall and Norah Baring. That one of the characters is a drag queen ("she-male") is just one of this film's many quirky elements. Adapted from Clemence Dane's novel, "Enter Sir John." Directed by Alfred Hitchcock Released in 1930 complete print (some missing frames)





Murder! is a 1930 Cinema of the United Kingdom drama film co-written and directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Herbert Marshall, Norah Baring and Edward Chapman (actor). 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 de Guerry Simpson. It was Hitchcock's third all-talkie film, after Blackmail (1929 film) and Juno and the Paycock (film).
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 the film was released on DVD by Lionsgate Home Entertainment in 2007.

Plot

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 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 brow-beaten 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, as well as understanding how and why he did it. During the interaction we learn Fane's secret: he is a half-caste, only Passing (racial identity) as white. Fane leaves the audition without confessing, and goes back to his old job; he is 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 Fur clothing, 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.

Cast


  • Herbert Marshall as Sir John Menier
  • Norah Baring as Diana Baring
  • Phyllis Konstam as Doucie Markham
  • Edward Chapman (actor) as Ted Markham
  • Miles Mander as Gordon Druce
  • Esme Percy as Handell Fane
  • Donald Calthrop as Ion Stewart
  • Esme V. Chaplin as Prosecuting Counsel
  • Amy Brandon Thomas as Defending Counsel
  • Joynson Powell as Judge
  • S.J. Warmington as Bennett
  • Marie Wright as Miss Mitcham
  • Hannah Jones as Mrs Didsome
  • Una O'Connor (actress) as Mrs Grogram

  • R.E. Jeffrey as Foreman of the Jury
  • Alan Stainer as Jury Member
  • Kenneth Kove as Mr. Mathews, Jury Member
  • Guy Pelham Boulton as Jury Member
  • Violet Farebrother as Mrs. Ward, Jury Member
  • Clare Greet as Jury Member
  • Drusilla Wills as Jury Member
  • Robert Easton as Jury Member
  • William Fazan as Jury Member
  • George Smythson as Jury Member
  • Ross Jefferson as Jury Member
  • Picton Roxborough as Jury Member
  • Alfred Hitchcock as Man on Street (uncredited)
  • Gus McNaughton as Tom Trewitt (uncredited)

Production

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.

Music

In addition to the original music composed by John Reynders, the film uses the opening of Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde prelude (music) 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 dubbing (filmmaking) 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).

Bibliography

  • Chandler, Charlotte. It's only a movie: Alfred Hitchcock : a personal biography. First Applause, 2006.
  • Yacowar, Maurice. Hitchcock's British Films. Wayne State University Press, 2010.

Category:1930 films
Category:Films based on mystery novels
Category:Films directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Category:Black-and-white films
Category:British films
Category:Elstree Studios films
Category:English-language films
Category:Films based on plays
Category:Films based on multiple works
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John Maxwell

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