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Noir-vember 2013: Please Murder Me

Posted by martinteller on November 16, 2013

In exactly 55 minutes, I will be dead.  Murdered.  First of all, let me explain I find myself completely sober, reasonably sane, and not at all surprised.

The defense attorney Craig Carlson (Raymond Burr) owes Joe Leeds (Dick Foran) his life, from when they were war buddies at Iwo Jima.  Which makes it extra difficult for Craig to tell Joe that he’s been carrying on an affair with his wife Myra (Angela Lansbury).  Two days later, after announcing to his partner (Robert Griffin) that he’s “made a decision”, Joe goes home and gets shot dead by Myra.  Myra contends that it was self-defense, and it’s up to Craig to clear her of the murder charge.  But Myra’s innocence soon comes into question.

This film starts out very promising, with an intro full of dark streets, hands reaching for guns, and in a framing device lifted directly from Double Indemnity, Burr starts to dictate his story into a tape recorder.  But as you can probably guess from my phrasing (or my rating, if you’re the type to jump ahead and read that first) it goes swiftly downhill.  Some other reviewers seem dazzled by the “twist” that comes, but I found it quite predictable.  The movie gets mired in ho-hum and not very authentic courtroom drama, then a tedious back-and-forth between Burr and Lansbury.  There’s no life to this noir, and no one involved seems motivated.   Lansbury has done much better (The Manchurian Candidate, Gaslight) and here she’s a weak femme fatale, whose peak of nastiness is only hinted at, never seen.  Burr is competent but on autopilot, and just about any of his other roles will give you a better idea of his talent and presence.

The rest of the cast is bland as it gets.  The story never gains momentum, and the cinematographic aspects are only impressive in the bookend sequences.  There is a fine theremin score by Albert Glasser… too bad it doesn’t accompany a more interesting film.  Don’t judge director Peter Godfrey by this alone… his Bogart/Stanwyck noir The Two Mrs. Carrolls is an excellent piece of work.  In this later movie, however, perhaps with his talents dulled by half a decade of television work, his heart isn’t in it.  Rating: Poor (49)

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