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Murder! (1930)


Of all of Hitchcock’s early sound films this is probably the most audacious, with its nods to Hamlet and negative portrayal of homosexuality. Herbert Marshall is the one juror in the case of Rex v. Diana Baring (Norah Baring) who believes the actress didn’t commit murder and conducts his own investigation. Behind every good man they say there’s a good woman and in Hitchcock’s case it was of course wife Alma Reville who adapted the novel (and play) Enter Sir John  by Clemence Dane. In later life he would say that you’re buying a play for its construction (so don’t mess with it) and in ways this suffers from the lack of technique enforced by the restrictions of sound cinema at the time (it was the director’s third foray). This is solved to a great extent by the use of the voiceover which has the effect of a series of soliloquies, appropriate for a man who used to tread the boards. Hitchcock was a friend of Gerald du Maurier and the character was more or less modelled on him – it was Marshall’s second sound film and he acquits himself convincingly. One searches for a continuity with later work but here we’re looking at the wrong woman instead of the wrong man (albeit she’s left holding the murder weapon) and even if this creaks like an old door needing some lubrication, the behind the scenes look at luvvies is interesting and there’s a very satisfying ending. In terms of innovation, Hitchcock wanted music so had to have a live orchestra playing. To make Marshall heard above the music and record everyone at once, he had the actor record his lines which were played back on a phonograph during the orchestra’s performance. That man was always full of ideas! He makes his customary appearance passing the murder victim’s house.

About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

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