Thursday, October 9, 2014

Murder with Pictures (1936)

Murder with Pictures is a 1936 murder mystery which (as was customary in Hollywood at that time) mixes the mystery with a dash of comedy.

It was based on a story by George Harmon Coxe. In the 1930s Coxe had written a series of crime stories for the pulp magazine Black Mask featuring news photographer Flashgun Casey who spends as much time solving crimes as taking photos. Coxe also wrote a series of novels featuring Kent Murdock, essentially a smoother slightly more up-market and slightly toned-down version of Flashgun Casey. Murder with Pictures was the first of the Kent Murdock books and Paramount’s film version quickly followed. Coxe co-wrote the screenplay with Sidney Salkow.

Nate Girard (Onslow Stevens) is a shady businessman who has made a lot of money from oil and he’s also a mobster. He’s just been acquitted on a murder charge. His businessman partner, a shyster lawyer named Redfield, got him off but no-one really believes he was innocent. Kent Murdock (Lew Ayres) finds himself involved when a girl named Meg Archer (Gail Patrick) persuades him to hide her in his hotel room. Meg is the number one suspect in a new murder, that of Redfield. It just so happens that Murdock’s assistant Doane spanned a picture that showed the actual murder and Mudock, who has convinced himself that Meg is innocent, believes that picture will clear her. The trouble is that everyone wants to get hold of that picture.

The plot complications accumulate at a frenetic pace. Everyone seems to be trying to double-cross everyone else and those who want that picture are wiling to kill it to get hold of it. Murdock has to try to keep Meg out of the hands of the police while also keeping her, and himself, alive.

Murdock has other problems. Under the influence of a few too many highballs he had proposed marriage to bubble-dancer Hester Boone (Joyce Compton) and now she is trying  to fleece him.

Nate Girard and Redfield had cheated Meg Archer and her father out of their lucrative oil business so Meg has a motive for murder and while Murdock still thinks she’s innocent (possibly because he’s fallen for he) there are times when he has his doubts.

The plot is not always easy to follow but the movie’s brisk pacing keeps things entertaining  even when things get pretty confused.

Lew Ayres is a typically fast-talking newspaper man. He plays Murdock just a little too much for laughs for my tastes but he’s reasonably likeable and not entirely unconvincing. Gail Patrick is an engaging and fairly feisty heroine. Joyce Compton provides some fairly amusing comic relief. The supporting cast comprises solid B-movie players. 

Director Charles Barton directed. He did a lot of B-movies and he does a workmanlike job and keeps things moving along. There’s enough action to keep things interesting.

This is a movie that has fallen into the public domain. The Mill Creek DVD I watched was not too bad by that company admittedly very low standards. Picture quality is quite acceptable but there are a few sound issues which is unfortunate because the complex plot becomes harder to follow when you find yourself missing some of the dialogue.

Murder with Pictures is a fairly solid mystery in the 1930s B-movie style. The idea of the crucial piece of evidence being a photographic plate which everyone is trying to steal is quite clever (and was very much a George Harmon Coxe trademark). Recommended.

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