Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Death at Broadcasting House - 1934 film review

Thanks to the wonderful channel Talking Pictures, I've caught up with the film of a book I wrote about in The Golden Age of Murder. And what a terrific period piece it is. I can't easily recall any film from the early days of the talkies that I've enjoyed so much. The movie is Death at Broadcasting House, based on the book of the same name by Val Gielgud and Holt Marvell.

In the US,the book was called London Calling!, possibly because in its early days Broadcasting House wasn't well known on the other side of the Atlantic. I am lucky enough to have a copy of the American edition of the book, inscribed by Eric Maschwitz, who used the pen-name Holt Marvell, and is best known as the lyricist who wrote A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. Like Val Gielgud, he was a BBC insider, and their know-how informs both the novel and the film.

Gielgud actually plays one of the main suspects, Julian Caird. He was a decent actor, if not quite in the same league as his brother Sir John. (Incidentally, when I presented the Classic Crimes course at the British Library recently, the curator Kathryn Johnson showed us Gielgud's anotated manuscripts as well as his scrapbook - quite fascinating.)

The film is, if anything, better than the book. It's a fast-paced story about a blackmailing actor who is murdered while playing the part of a murder victim in a mystery play for radio. There's a nice mix of suspects, and a good cast including Austin Trevor and the young Jack Hawkins. In one of a number of interesting cameos,the splendid Elisabeth Welch sings a song. The script is sharp, with some genuinely funny lines. But above all the film supplies a great insight into the early days of broadcasting. It's very watchable despite its age. Great fun.

6 comments:

Art Scott said...

This sounds delectable. But apparently the only DVD comes from England, in region format not playable in the US (unless you have a multi-region player). However, a 1996 BBC radio version of the film can be listened to or downloaded at archive.org. I'm listening to it now.

Juxtabook said...

I would love to see this. London Rain by Nicola Upson is something of a homage to it and I caught a radio drama version on the iplayer radio (at the gym of all places) which I enjoyed very much.

Martin Edwards said...

Art, hope you enjoy it. Let me know!

Martin Edwards said...

Juxtabook, I'm pretty sure it can be seen on Freeview.

Dave said...

Talking Pictures is a great channel! Apparently, it's only run by two people.

Martin Edwards said...

Blimey. Only two??? I'm impressed.