Murder! (1930 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alfred Hitchcock|
Enter Sir John by|
|Cinematography||J. J. Cox|
under the supervision of Emile de Ruelle
Wardour Films (UK)|
British International Pictures Inc. (US)
|31 July 1930|
Murder! is a 1930 British drama film co-written and directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Herbert Marshall, Norah Baring and Edward Chapman. Written by Hitchcock, his wife Alma Reville and Walter C. Mycroft, it is based on a novel and play called Enter Sir John by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson. It was Hitchcock's third all-talkie film, after Blackmail and Juno and the Paycock.
In 1930, Diana Baring (Norah Baring), a young actress in a travelling theatre troupe, is found in a daze with blood on her clothes, standing by the murdered body of another young actress, Edna Druce. The poker used to commit the murder was at Diana's feet, but she has no memory of what happened during the minutes the crime was committed. The two young women were thought to have been rivals, and the police arrest her. Diana withholds some important information deliberately, to protect something about the identity of a man that she will not name.
At her trial most of the jury are certain she is guilty. One or two feel that she may have a severe mental illness which meant that she really did have no memory of killing the other woman, but they are convinced that she should still be hanged lest she strike again. One juror, Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall), a celebrated actor-manager, seems sure she must be innocent, but is brow-beaten into voting "guilty" along with the rest of the jury. Diana is imprisoned, and awaiting hanging.
Sir John feels responsible, as he was the one who had recommended that Diana take the touring job in order for her to get more life experience. It also turns out that Diana has been a fan of his since childhood. She is beautiful, and seems far too honest and straightforward to be a criminal of any kind. Using skills he has learned in the theatre, Sir John investigates the murder with the help of the stage manager Ted Markham (Edward Chapman) and his wife Doucie (Phyllis Konstam). They narrow the possible suspects down to one male actor in the troupe, Handel Fane (Esme Percy), who often plays cross-dressing roles.
Sir John tries to cleverly lure a confession out of Fane, by asking him to audition for a new play that Sir John has written, on the subject of the murder. Fane realises that they know he committed the crime, as well as understanding how and why he did it. During the interaction we learn Fane's secret: he is a half-caste, only passing as white. Fane leaves the audition without confessing, and goes back to his old job; he is a solo trapeze performer in a circus. Sir John and the others go there to confront him again. During his performance, from his high perch he looks down and sees them waiting. Despairing, he knots his access rope into a noose, slips it over his head and jumps to his death.
We then see Diana, free, and gloriously dressed in white furs, entering a beautiful room and being welcomed warmly by Sir John, who receives her as if he loves her. The camera pulls back and we realise we are watching the very last scene of a new play, possibly the new play, in which Diana stars opposite Sir John.
- Herbert Marshall as Sir John Menier
- Norah Baring as Diana Baring
- Phyllis Konstam as Doucie Markham
- Edward Chapman as Ted Markham
- Miles Mander as Gordon Druce
- Esme Percy as Handel Fane
- Donald Calthrop as Ion Stewart
- Esme V. Chaplin as Prosecuting Counsel
- Amy Brandon-Thomas as Defending Counsel
- Joynson Powell as Judge
- S.J. Warmington as Bennett
- Marie Wright as Miss. Mitcham
- Hannah Jones as Mrs. Didsome
- Una O'Connor as Mrs. Grogram
Members of the Jury
The film was made by British International Pictures. It was originally to be released under the same title as the novel, Enter Sir John, but this was changed to the simpler Murder! during shooting. A number of changes were made from the book, including altering the names of the two principal characters. The portrayal of the character Sir John Mernier was loosely based on that of the actor Gerald du Maurier, who was a friend of Hitchcock. Hitchcock later adapted three novels written by du Maurier's daughter Daphne du Maurier: Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and The Birds. Hitchcock makes his cameo appearance in the film as a man walking past the murder victim's house.
The German language version of the film, Mary, was shot simultaneously on the same set with German speaking actors. Miles Mander reprised his role as Gordon Druce in Mary, though the character's name was changed to Gordon Moore.
In addition to the original music composed by John Reynders, the film uses the opening of Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde prelude as background (supposedly a radio broadcast that Sir John is listening to) in the shaving scene.
For the filming, an orchestra played the music live on the set. Hitchcock described the filming of this scene to François Truffaut in the book-length interview Hitchcock/Truffaut (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967). In the early days of sound film, there was no way to post-dub sound, so Hitchcock had Herbert Marshall's voice recorded on a phonograph record, which was played back during the filming of the scene, while the orchestra played the background music live (supposedly playing on the radio in Sir John's bathroom).
Copyright status and ownership
Due to overlapping changes in British copyright law, the film has never fallen into the public domain in the UK, and its copyright there is now due to expire at the end of 2052, 70 years after Alma Reville's death.
In countries that observe a 50-year copyright term, such as Canada or Australia, it will expire at the end of 2032.
In the United States the original copyright registration, in 1931, was not renewed after the initial 28-year term, and thus the film fell into the public domain in 1959. However, as it is a non-U.S. film that is still in copyright in its country of origin, its U.S. copyright was automatically restored in 1996, with a term of 95 years from release. The copyright will therefore expire at the end of 2026.
The film has been owned by the French media company Canal+ since 2005.
A restored and remastered print of the film was released on DVD by Lionsgate Home Entertainment in 2007.
- Yacowar p.240
- Chandler p.80
- Chandler p.80
- Chandler, Charlotte. It's only a movie: Alfred Hitchcock : a personal biography. First Applause, 2006.
- Yacowar, Maurice. Hitchcock's British Films. Wayne State University Press, 2010.