Friday, December 3, 2010

Please Murder Me (1956)


It's time for another trip to the 100 Mystery films and time for Raymond Burr. When I popped in the disc I was surprised to see Angela Lansbury getting top billing. Parry Mason and Mrs.. Potts in a 50's noir? Sounds like this could get good.


Attorney Craig Carlson (Raymond Burr) breaks it to his best friend Joe Leeds (Dick Foran) that he has fallen in love with Joe's wife Myra (Angela Lansbury). Joe is calm about the whole thing and says he needs a few days to think over a divorce from Myra, so she can be with Craig. A few days later, Joe is found dead and Myra is the main suspect. Craig ends up defending Myra, not revealing that the two were having an affair. But the trial is just going to the first obstacle for Craig, because the more that comes out about Myra, the darker their future becomes. Eventually circumstances will drive Craig to say, "Please Murder Me".

Good Points:

  • Solid acting by the three leads
  • The second half of the film provides an interesting premise
  • Some of the noir camera work is effective

Bad Points:

  • The resolution to the trial stretches all kinds of credibility
  • The story mis-uses flashbacks
  • The print I saw was in poor shape with major sound issues


This is a solid mystery flick. The acting really helps keep the story moving especially when the story goes that extra step too far. The trial revelation actually had me chuckling. But the decidedly dark path the film takes in the second half was surprising and refreshing. It's a shame that the print was so bad, it ended up affecting some key dialogue scenes, and hurt my enjoyment of what otherwise is a good film.

Scores (out of 5)

Visual: 2

Sound: 2

Music: 2

Script: 3

Acting: 3

Direction: 3

Entertainment: 3

Total: 3

In Depth Review:

To be honest the appeal of this film are the performances by Raymond Burr and Angela Lansbury. Fans of either of the two should check this out to see some interesting work by them. Burr seems to be warming up for Perry Mason which he ended up working on a year later. Lansbury was still a few years from "The Manchurian Candidate" where she played a sinister role as well, but she's just as effective in this film. The bulk of the film rests on Burr's shoulders and he carries it off well, convincing as the lawyer as well as the lover. When he realizes the depths that Myra has sunk to, the affect is startling. He plays the part of the broken man very well and we see the cold desperation in his eyes for the remainder of the film. Lansbury isn't in the film as often, but makes the most of her scenes, playing a role that requires her to be a woman pretending to be something quite different than what she is. What is interesting is that Myra's desperation mirrors Craig’s but for different reasons. When she finally cracks at the end she does it well.

Two other actors deserve mention. Foran's role as Joe is small but vital to the film. His interaction with his business partner Lou (Robert Griffin) and Craig gives the audience enough to determine how they feel about the circumstances of his murder. These scenes are necessary for the first half of the film to work well and Foran does a very good job building an interesting character. The other role is of the artist Carl Holt (Lamont Johnson). When Craig first meets him we are unsure what kind of man he is, but Lamont plays him as a genuine nice guy, one who has no clue what Myra is really like. He bonds with Craig and it causes events in the second half to shift in a new direction. Again, without a solid performance in this role, the finale of the movie wouldn't work.

As I mentioned the script needs all the help it can get. The basic ideas are fine, and they make for an entertaining and dark little movie. It's the particulars that sink the script. I've mentioned the trial a couple times and for the most part it’s handled well. But the resolution is pretty bad. Craig's revelation that he is sleeping with his client would get the case tossed from court, instead it frees Myra? Um, I don't buy that for a minute. Beyond that there are other story items that just fall apart if you look at them too closely. The script needed another couple passes to smooth out the rough edges. But the characters are intriguing enough to keep me involved.

The technical elements all suffer a bit. The noir looks is effective, but at the same time doesn't really do too much to the mood of the film. A few moments work better than others, especially in the second half. But for the most part you've got decent enough visuals and sound. But the print just hurts the whole thing. Some scenes are way too dark or murky, and the dialogue in many scenes in the middle portion of the film is really difficult to hear. And some of the key lines required me to do some creative lip reading to make it work. The music is a mixed bag, ranging from effective to annoying. This is typical from composer Albert Glasser who worked on a lot of films for Bert I. Gordon. In this film he uses what sounds like a Theremin and it stands out pretty badly, not adding to the film much at all (as opposed to Bernarrd Herrman's work in "The Day the Earth Stood Still").

The direction is a mixed bag. Some of the shots are composed well with some good lighting and tension work building well. It's difficult to judge some of the editing because the print is so damaged in places that actual frames are missing, but for the most part you can see that it was put together fairly well. Director Peter Godfrey knew enough to step back and let his actors work, maybe providing some guidance here and there. It's very good, but one thing keeps things from really clicking and that is the use of the flashbacks. It just makes the story feel convoluted instead of clean and simple. I've seen others say that this structure was influenced by "Double Indemnity" the classic noir. This may be the case, but the film doesn't need it, and it actually ends up being annoying when we cut back to Craig narrating his story. If this element had been cut the movie would have been better for it.

This is a movie that works in spite of some major handicaps. But the actors pull you in and keep you interested in the characters. It's makes for an entertaining evening of noir, but if you aren't willing to deal with the poor sound and visual quality - I say skip it. For anyone else who wants to see Burr and Lansbury, I recommend it.

Check out what James Lileks thought of the movie here.

1 comment:

  1. I grew up watching Perry Mason and liked Lansbury since seeing her as Sybil Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), so this sounds appealing. Courtrooms go way back in the movies (eg the 1927 version of Chicago); they are tricky to do right, but can be fun.