Alfred Hitchcock's second sound-era thriller, “Murder,” stars Herbert Marshall in his first speaking role, thus launching a long fruitful screen career in the U.K. and in Hollywood.
Marshall plays an actor-manager named Sir John Menier, reportedly inspired by the pompous real-life actor, George DuMaurier. Summoned for jury duty, Sir John is one of 12 people who must decide the fate of Diana Baring (Norah Baring), a young actress on trial for murder.
Though the girl is found guilty, Sir John believes that she's innocent and sets about to prove it on his own, exercising his actor's prerogative of adopting clever disguises in the course of his investigation.
Along the way, he is assisted by a pair of lower-class clods, Ted and Dulcie Markham (Edward Chapman and Phyllis Konstam), who help him stage an elaborate re-enactment of the crime.
Based on Enter Sir John, a novel and play by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson, “Murder” was simultaneously filmed in a German version, with Alfred Abel playing the Herbert Marshall part.
“Murder” features a villain, Handel Fane (played by Esme Percy) who is a transvestite-killer motivated by his racial status; he’s a half-caste. Confessing to the crime of which Diana is accused, he later commits suicide by hanging himself during a trapeze performance.
The happy ending shows Diana and Sir John together, but it turns out they are on stage, performing his new play.
As is known, for all of his career Hitchcock was fascinated with the theater as a setting, enabling him to comment on the issues of appearances versus reality and role-playing. In “Murder,” Hitchcock blurs the distinction between life on stage and off by using the last name of his leading lady, Nora Baring, as her character’s name, Diana Baring.
At one point, Sir John says: “This is not a play. This is life!” Later on, in his effort to acquit Diana, he aims to get at “Nothing but the truth,” which is also the name of a play in the theater’s repertory. In another play performed, the murderer is dressed as a woman and as a cop, which are also the disguises that the villain used to escape from the scene of the crime.
Theatrical settings also feature prominently in “The Thirty Nine Steps,” the two versions of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934 and 1956), “Stage Fright,” “I Confess,” and others. Movie houses also appear in “Sabotage,” “Rebecca,” and “Saboteur,”
Hitchcock also directed a German version of “Murder,” starring Alfred Abel and titled “Mary.”
Running time: 92 Minutes.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Clarence Dane, Helen Simpson, Alfred Hitchcock, Walter Mycroft, Alma Reville
Herbert Marshall as Sir John Menier
Norah Baring as Diana Baring
Phyllis Konstam as Dulcie Markham
Edward Chapman as Ted Markham
R.E. Jeffrey as Foreman of the Jury
Miles Mander as Gordon Druce