Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Please Murder Me (1956)
Please Murder Me is an ingenious little 1956 murder mystery with noir overtones and a clever plot gimmick.
Raymond Burr is attorney Craig Carlson who has fallen in love with the wife of an old army buddy. In fact Joe Leeds isn’t just an old army buddy, he’s Carlson’s closest friend. Carlson is a straightforward up-front sort of guy so he explains the situation to Joe. He and Myra Leeds (Angel Lansbury) want to get married so it would be kind of cool if Joe would give Myra a divorce.
Joe isn’t overly pleased of course. He’s kind of stunned, as you would be. He tells Carlson he’ll have to think things through. So far it hasn’t gone quite as badly as Carlson feared. He really hates to having to hurt poor Joe that way. Then poor Joe gets shot. Myra is found next to the body with a gun in her hand but she claims it was self-defence. Joe just suddenly attacked her and she had no choice. That’s her story and she’s sticking to it.
Carlson naturally believes her but the cops don’t buy it. She is charged with murder and Carson will be her defence attorney.
At this point I have to say that one of my movie pet peeves is movies where lawyers defend people they’re personally involved with or related to. Is that really considered to be ethical? I’d have thought not, but I’m not a lawyer so maybe it’s actually quite normal. Sometimes though it is unavoidable and in this case the entire plot hinges on that point, and since it’s a clever plot I’m prepared to make allowances. And it’s by no means the only egregiously unethical thing that happens in the trial scene.
With the trial Carlson’s problems have only just begun. He gets hold of a letter that Joe Leeds wrote on the day of his death, a letter that puts a rather different complexion on the whole case. Has Carlson been played for a fool? Is there a way out for him?
So far nothing I’ve told you really constitutes a spoiler. This all happens fairly early on before the plot twists start to kick in, and the flashback structure and certain other hints make most of the plot points up to this stage fairly obvious. It’s Carlson’s response to these events that constitutes the core of the plot and the heart of the movie.
The screenplay is certainly contrived and stretches the limits of credibility but you expect that in a murder mystery and it’s sufficiently well-executed that despite the contrivances it works. Director Peter Godfrey made some pretty good movies but by the mid-50s his career was on the downward slide and he was reduced to doing television work and Poverty Row productions like this one. He does a sound job.
Raymond Burr hadn’t yet found fame as Perry Mason but he’d done some great film noir supporting roles making quite a name for himself as a heavy. This film gives him the opportunity to be a hero. A hero of sorts anyway, He was better as a bad guy but he’s solid enough. Angela Lansbury starts off being a little on the insipid side but once Myra starts to develop her spider woman tendencies her performance really starts to blossom, in a nicely poisonous way.
This is very much a low-budget movie so it’s hard to tell if the rather seedy and claustrophobic feel was intentional or merely the result of the budgetary limitations. The poor quality of the print may also have added to the seedy atmosphere.
Is it really film noir? Is has lengthy flashback sequences and it definitely has a femme fatale, and it has a hero who is a poor schmuck who gets his life ruined and gets dragged into a waking nightmare, so I think it has enough noir credentials to qualify.
It can be difficult to judge a movie fairly when you only get to see an extremely bad print. Poor picture quality can make a movie appear more stodgy than it really is and lousy picture and sound quality can make performances seem flatter than they really are. I think it’s a pretty decent little movie anyway but the public domain print I saw is truly awful and it’s quite possible I’d have liked this one even more had I had the opportunity to see a good print.
A respectable B noir and worth looking out for.