Alfred Hitchcock captures the pure bedlam that overtakes a neighborhood when their peaceful dreams are rudely disrupted by an awful din. As is customary everyone is in a foul mood, peers out their windows, bickers with everyone else, and moves into action.
Then in a split second, everything’s beastly still. The reason: The dead body lying on the floor discovered by the policeman making his rounds. The blunt instrument is at the feet of a disoriented young actress who looks to be the obvious culprit. But there has to be more to this story than what meets the eye. This cannot be as simple as we are led to believe. It’s a stellar environment to introduce a murder. Acting as one of Hitch’s few whodunits, Murder! involves itself with the rest of a stage acting troupe full of players.
Still, in the ensuing court hearing, the aspiring starlet, Diana finds her life on the line in the hands of a jury. Their deliberations feel a bit like 12 Angry Men (1957) as Sir John (Herbert Marshall) is hustled and hurried into coming to a guilty verdict by groupthink as the one remaining holdout.
In these sequences, there’s a sense that Hitchcock has a bit of frustration with the state of affairs with the legal system or if nothing else a great interest in its functions much like Fritz Lang did in pictures like M (1931), Fury (1936), and You Only Live Once (1937). But it’s truly a Hitchcock touch to have the pronouncement of death given as the camera continues to focus on a worker cleaning up the juror’s room. But it’s key that the story does not end here, rather like The Phantom Lady (over a decade later) there’s more to the story and only one man is interested in figuring it out. Because of his sheer fortitude, it’s understandable that he becomes our hero.
Sir John finds himself in a bit of a moral dilemma (as denoted with an early example of character voiceover) because he feels partially responsible for the problems assailing young Diana and he resolves to do something about it. Unfortunately, the film’s latter half slogs on a bit as Sir John calls upon the services of Ted Markum and his wife — two witnesses in the opening scene — to help close in on the real killer. The individual they suspect to be the culprit. However, the real trouble is not simply pinning the murder on this perpetrator but also figuring out how they did it.
A woman’s life hangs in the balance as the gallows sit menacingly in her future. Still, Hitchcock uses some cruel poetic justice to tie his story’s loose ends up. A trapeze act gets a lot more morbid than ever before and again Hitchcock returns to human tumult which livens up his picture moderately and makes Murder! truly worthy of its name. In such instances, there are obvious signs of the master at work. Otherwise, this is hardly Hitchcock’s most diverting offering in the genre.