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Murder! (1930)


Main image of Murder! (1930)
Directed byAlfred Hitchcock
Production CompanyBritish International Pictures
Scenario byAlma Reville
Adapted byAlfred Hitchcock, Walter C. Mycroft
Photography byJack Cox
From the novel byClemence Dane, Helen Simpson

Cast: Herbert Marshall (Sir John Menier); Norah Baring (Diana Baring); Phyllis Konstam (Doucie Markham); Edward Chapman (Ted Markham); Miles Mander (Gordon Druce)

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An actress is convicted of the murder of another actress in the same touring company. But the distinguished actor Sir John Menier, who served on the jury at her trial, becomes convinced of her innocence.

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Hitchcock's third sound film, made in 1930 for British International Pictures, was a return to the crime genre, adapted from the stage play Enter Sir John written by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson. The adaptation is credited to Hitchcock and Walter Mycroft.

Like Hitchcock's debut, The Pleasure Garden (1925), and the later Stage Fright (US, 1950), Murder!'s action took place in a theatrical setting. Hitchcock was an enthusiastic theatre-goer, and one of Murder!'s most entertaining scenes takes place during the performance of a farce, when two detectives become increasingly confused as members of the cast come and go, dropping in and out of character.

The film contains a number of innovations, including what some believe to be the first use of a voice-over to denote an internal monologue. This in an unusual scene in which the theatre star turned detective, Sir John, ponders the case while shaving and listening to the wireless; Hitchcock claimed that for the radio music he used a live orchestra on set, rather than a recording.

One of Hitchcock's favourite plots, notably in The 39 Steps (1935), Young and Innocent (1937) and North by Northwest (1959), was the attempt of a falsely accused man to prove his innocence, often with the help of a woman. The plot of Murder!, however, is more closely related to Blackmail (1929) and (to a lesser extent) Sabotage (1936), in that the accused is female and is defended by a male associate. In those two films however, the women in question are guilty of murder - with mitigating circumstances - whereas in Murder!, Diana is entirely innocent but, for reasons of her own, is willing to accept the charge.

Although ostensibly the real villain of Murder!, Handel Fane (Esmé Percy) is driven to murder by the desire to hide his mixed-race origins, the film subtly implies that his true secret is homosexuality. Percy's performance is notably camp, and Fane first appears in women's clothing (although this is in the context of the farce in which the character is performing). In 1930, this is about as close as a mainstream British film could come to representing homosexuality on screen.

Hitchcock simultaneously shot a German language version of the film, with an almost completely different cast, released as Mary in 1931.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Backstage investigation (4:28)
2. In the jury room (3:09)
3. Revealing reflections (2:03)
Production stills
Blackmail (1929)
Calthrop, Donald (1888-1940)
Cox, Jack (1890-1960)
Hitchcock, Alfred (1899-1980)
Mycroft, Walter (1890-1959)
Proud, Peter (1913-1989)
Reville, Alma (1899-1982)
1930s: The Invocation of Theatre in Film
English Hitchcock
Film and Theatre: 1930s