Sunday, August 22, 2010
Studio: British International Pictures Ltd
Screenplay: Alfred Hitchcock, Walter Mycroft & Alma Reville
Source Material: A play called 'Enter Sir John' by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson
Running Time: 98 minutes
A black & white picture
Sunday 22nd August, 9:00am
Goodness gracious! I had a late one last night. I didn't get to sleep until around 1am (and for me, that is very late - I'm an 'early to bed, early to rise' sort of person).
I had been out at a friend's birthday party - it was a strict dress-coded cocktail party and I went in a fabulous 1940s outfit which set my debt repayment scheme back a month, but it was worth it. I also met some new and interesting people. It's hard attending parties when 'on the wagon' and Red Bull is not a good substitute for alcohol. I was soon crooning along to the music thanks to the caffeine hit.
I left at midnight, but was unable to sleep when I got home, so I watched some TV and eventually drifted off about 1 o'clock. However, I still awoke around 5:30 due to nightmares about Australian Liberal leader Tony Abbott. Bloomin' elections.
So, after a brief sojourn to the supermarket, I settled on the settee with a bacon sandwich, a mug of tea and a small bowl of chocolate covered sultanas to act as provisions and I watched a small favourite of mine... and it's a good old fashioned 'whodunit?' - hooray.
Sir John Menier - Herbert Marshall
Diana Baring - Norah baring
Doucie Markham - Phyllis Konstam
Ted Markham - Edward Chapman
Gordon Druce - Miles Mander
Handel Fane - Esme Percy
Ion Stewart - Donald Calthrop
Prosecuting Counsel - Esme V Chaplin
Defending Counsel - Amy Brendan-Thomas
Judge - Joynson Powell
Bennett - S.J. Warmington
Miss Mitcham - Marie Wright
Mrs. Didsome - Hannah Jones
Mrs Grogram - Una O'Connor
A murder takes place one night. It appears that one actress has murdered another with a blow to the head with a poker. The play in which these two ladies were performing continues on with understudies - it's some terrible farce in which everyone appears to be chronically drunk.
The murder trial is brief. The defending counsel claims the perpetrator was in a fugue state and cannot be held responsible for her actions. After some deliberation, the jury decide she is guilty and she is sentenced to death by hanging.
Before the sentence is carried out, one of the jurors, Sir John Menier - a famous thespian - worries about their quick decision, he decides to investigate further to try and save the girl from the gallows.
With the help of a local married couple, Doucie and Ted Markham, Sir John finds clues leading to the identity of the true killer. He sets a trap, but the killer is merely perturbed rather than truly exposed, however he soon takes his own life in spectacular fashion.
There are a number of gems, particularly in the jury scene. From that, I choose this as my favourite.
Undecided Male Juror: (on his opinion of her innocence)"...she looks a perfectly ripping girl..."
More Discerning Male Juror: "I presume, sir, that an ugly woman would stand very little chance at your hand."
Also, as the rest of the jury gang up on Sir John, to every piece of evidence, they chime in; "Any answer to that, Sir John" in chorus.
In the boarding house where Sir John is staying, he is awoken by the landlady, her baby and a horde of children - one of whom has a small black kitten. The kitten makes its way under Sir John's bed-covers and the little girl shrieks at the top of her lungs:
"HE'S GOT MY PUSSY!"
Ooh, it has some lovely Hitchcock touches!
1. The opening scene of a late night murder - a scream echoing down a hamlet, a cat scurrying away, neighbours aroused by noise...
2. The wonderful transition between the curtain raising on the stage and the metal slide door/window opening on the cell of the accused actress and the sound of laughter and applause over her image in the cell.
3. The shadow of the gallows creeping its way up the cell wall as the time passes.
These are all beautifully framed to an inch of perfection thanks to Alfred's talent.
I also love the scene in which Sir John goes to talk to Diana in prison. We have some effective shots directed down the long table separating them, highlighting the isolation despite their close vicinity. We gradually get closer as the barriers are broken down through their dialogue.
The final scene where the true murderer takes his own life is pure Hitch through and through - the macabre set against a backdrop of entertainment and spectacle - foreshadowing touches he would play with again in The 39 Steps, Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train to name just a few.
It's also claimed that the scene in which Sir John is pondering the jury's decision whilst he is shaving is cinema's first use of voice over for an internal monologue!
The one grating moment in this film is the shocking revelation about our true murderer turning out to be... a half-caste *shock, horror*.
It just goes to show how far we have come in the last eighty years. Or have we?
Oh, and it may be nit-picking, but Herbert Marshall's impression of a woman to fool a witness is alarmingly bad and totally unconvincing - shame, really.
One final note, there is an alternative ending available in which we have a couple of extra scenes - they do not add much to the film so are not essential viewing.
I love the pace of this film, most of which is due to the source of the original play, I think. The Murder, the 'Twelve Angry Men (and women)' scene, the belated investigation, the trap and the finale; all play out in perfect timing.
Herbert Marshall carries the film exceedingly well, but praise must also go to the supporting cast.
The 'confession' is played out all-too conveniently, but I can overlook this as the excitement proceeding it is still at the fore-front of our minds.