Monday, 11 May 2015

Murder without Crime - DVD review

Murder without Crime is a 1950 movie that is a sort of British film noir. It certainly has several intriguing features. These include its origins. It began life as a play called Double Error, written by John Lee Thompson, a Bristol-born actor who turned to writing for the stage, and it ran briefly in London in 1935. Seven years later, a revised version, Murder without Crime, enjoyed much more success in the West End, although when it transferred to Broadway, it sank without trace. This info, by the way, comes from Amnon Kabatchnik's monumental Blood on the Stage, which is a superb source; one of these days, I'll talk in more detail about Katbatchnik's books on mystery plays.

After the war, Thompson adapted his play into a screenplay, and directed a film version. The theatrical origins of the story are fairly apparent, and there are only four actors. Dennis Price is suave and menacing as the odious landlord Matthew. Derek Farr is Stephen, his tenant, who lives in the flat above Matthew's with his wife Jan, Patricia Plunkett. When the couple have a row, Jan walks out, and Matthew takes Stephen to a club - the Teneriffe - where he introduces him to the young blonde hostess Grena (Joan Dowling.) Stephen, who is not the brightest of men to put it mildly, gets involved with Grena,with disastrous consequences.

I enjoyed this film, even though I could have done without the American-style voiceover, which simply didn't fit a very British story. There are, however, several nods to the film noir style of direction, and you can tell that Thompson was experimenting, and learning his craft. He proved to be a very good learner, and in due course, as J. Lee Thompson, he directed several major films, including Cape Fear, Ice Cold in Alex, and The Guns of Navarone.

Dennis Price was always a fascinating actor, and he plays the bad guy with his customary style. But I was most interested to find out about Joan Dowling. There is a very poignant Pathe news feature about her on Youtube, filmed when she signed up with a movie company at the age of 18. The world was at her feet, it seemed. Yet four years after making Murder without Crime, she committed suicide, gassing herself. A profoundly tragic story. I'd like to think she enjoyed appearing in Murder without Crime, and that she was proud of her performance. More generally, this is a film that I can recommend. Not perfect, but decent entertainment. It deserves to be better known..

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

I saw this film recently as well, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It'as good to find another admirer of Dennis Price!