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by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Aug 13, 2019

As Alfred Hitchcock made more and more talkies, the more skilled he became at exploring the things that he so often did. In an interview with Truffaut, he talked about his disdain for the whodunit genre, and threw shade at other filmmakers trying to attempt similar feats in cinema during his career. In particular, he spoke negatively of Sir Laurence Olivier's forays into the genre he had a hand in shepherding. So, as you can imagine, "Murder!" is no simple whodunit thriller. For all its formalist bells and whistles, this 1930 film by the master of suspense strikes similar narrative chords that would be refined as the filmmaker's career progressed.

Diana Baring (Norah Baring) is a young actress in a traveling theater troupe that's accused of murdering Edna Druce, an actress she was envious of and worked alongside. A fireplace poker is at Diana's feet, but she has no memory of the events that occurred beforehand. Enter Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall), an actor-manager assigned to be a juror during Diana's trial. He doesn't believe Diana killed Edna, but he's pressured by the other jurors to say she's guilty. This convinces John to conduct his own private investigation into the theater troupe and find evidence that could lead to Diana's release.

There's this one visual motif that'll sit with me for some time: John is racing to find evidence needed to exonerate Diana. Hitchcock cuts between a slowly-moving weathervane, the creeping shadow of the hangman's noose, and John's stressed face to show the passage of time but also imbue the narrative with a sense of urgency. The audience doesn't know which way the wind is going to blow, and are probably worried about Diana's fate. Hitchcock knew exactly when to heighten that emotion of doom, and did it all through gesturing.

Another of Hitchcock's tricks in early talkie filmmaking arise during a sequence in which John has an internal monologue about his place in Diana's story. There was no way to apply audio in post-production, so the beleaguered director hired an orchestra to play during the shooting of the scene and played a pre-recording of Herbert Marshall's lines as filming progressed. An expensive venture, sure, but one by a filmmaker that was creating new ways to hear and see in 1930.

With what looks to be a restoration by StudioCanal, which looks and sounds wonderful despite the film elements clearly having been beaten to hell by age, the onus was on Kino Lorber to supply this release with show-stopping special features. Once again, Kino Lorber rose to the occasion. Hitcock shot a German version of "Mary" simultaneously. That version, "Mary," is also available on this Blu-ray release, and I highly recommend watching it, as it resembles the first film in story but shows it in a much different fashion. I also highly recommend watching the alternate ending of "Blackmail," as it perfectly shows off Hitchcock trimming his own attempts to make his films end on a more positive note. Other special features include:

• Audio Commentary by Film Critic Nick Pinkerton
• Hitchcock/Truffaut: Icon interviews Icon (Audio)
• Introduction by Noël Simsolo

Kino Lorber Blu-ray


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