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The Times (23/Sep/1930) - "Murder"

(c) The Times (23/Sep/1930)



Adapted from the Novel, "Enter Sir John," by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson.

A British International Production.

Who drank the brandy which disappeared from the room where Mrs. Druce was murdered? This point was never cleared up in the evidence against Diana Baring, the young actress in the theatrical touring company who is sent to penal servitude for the murder. It lies heavy upon the conscience of Sir John Menier, the actor-manager who serves on the jury -- so heavily, indeed, that after the verdict he employs all his wits towards a reconstruction of the crime, not unmindful that if Diana is released he will be able to marry her. The authors of the film have offered us this scrap of sentimental consolation in a drama happily free in its romantic intent from any suggestion of mawkishness.

Whether to admire the move Mr. Alfred Hitchcock for the persuasiveness of his direction or Mr. Herbert Marshall for his performance as Sir John is a point of taste that may be left to film-goers in the certainty that they will be nicely engaged. For although each member of an exceptionally good cast, including Mr. Miles Mander, Mr. Edward Chapman, Mr. Esme Percy, and Mr. Donald Calthrop, contributes a gesture of perfection to the whole, it is Mr. Marshall whose acting gives it warmth, centre, and verisimilitude. With legitimate cunning his voice is not heard till we are well advanced in the action, but once the verdict has been given he takes full possession.

His study of the actor-manager applying "the technique of art to the solution of the problems of life" is wrought with innumerable touches which never leave behind them his professional conceit, how desperate soever the quest becomes. One feels that Sir John is not so much a man deeply moved within himself to establish justice as an actor deeply moved to establish his powers of acting, and this is the best compliment we can pay to the subtlety of Mr. Marshall's performance. In his hands and in those of Mr. Esme Percy, the real culprit, and Miss Norah Baring, the falsely accused, the action climbs desperately but smoothly to its peak. Ted Markham, the stage manager, and his wife, Doucie, of whom Miss Phyllis Konstam makes so witty a picture ; the landlady at Diana Baring's lodgings, and the stage-door keeper at the local theatre, are gradually, with all their accents and properties, drawn into the mesh of the inquiry. We find ourselves thrust into a world at once made passionately aware of itself, and Mr. Hitchcock has never been more skilful in revealing the inner lives of his characters and the strangeness of the scene that enfolds them. Murder, then, is not simply a brilliant exercise in mystery melodrama. Like most of Mr. Hitchcock's work, it tells us about the life as well as the lives of his characters, and we cannot follow him into Sir John's study or into the actress's lodgings without knowing more of the world about us than we did before. In short, Mr. Hitchcock's method is that of the creative artist. He has produced a picture of which any country might be proud, and has shown that when so minded we can make films superior in intelligence and style to any submitted to us by America or Germany.