Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Murder! and Mary (1930/1931)

  • In 1956Hitchcock famously remade his own 1934 thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much
  • But 25 years before that he directed two very different versions of this murder mystery
  • Both films were shot at the same time and place but with English and German casts
  • The English-language version had a second American edit, with a much pacier ending
  • It’s been heavily bootlegged for years, but here’s a round-up of all quality official releases

Note: this is one of 50-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

Murder! (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US window card

US window card


Contents


Murder! (1930)

John Grierson CBE (1898–1972), critic and documentary maker, writing in 1930 infamously proclaimed:

“Hitchcock is the best director, the slickest craftsman, the sharpest observer and finest master of detail in all England. There is no doubt about this. He has these qualities so abundantly that in their sum they give him a style which is his and no one else’s. A Hitchcock film is a Hitchcock film—and never a bad one—and this, if you will believe me, is an achievement of character where so many hands, grubby and otherwise, contribute to the final result of a film. Yet for all these virtues, Hitchcock is no more than the world’s best director of unimportant pictures.”

Ouch. He was, of course, making the point that in his opinion, Hitch’s prodigious talent should be turned towards making films based on more important subjects than mere escapist entertainment like this. He then went on to review both Murder! and Rich and Strange in great and thoughtful detail. Still sounds like sour grapes to me…

Edward Chapman (shadow) and Phyllis Konstam in (Murder! (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Edward Chapman (shadow) and Phyllis Konstam in the highly expressionistic opening scenes of Murder!

As with so many of his films, Murder! and its German-language sister, Mary (1931), are best known these days for having been directed by our Alfred. Just as interesting though, is the fact they’re multiple-language version films (MLVs), shot simultaneously on the same sets but with different casts. Both are densely plotted mystery-thriller whodunits with numerous typically Hitchcockian twists. Mary is 20 minutes shorter than Murder! so much more streamlined. A third version, presumably French, was initially proposed but didn’t transpire. This was actually Hitch’s second experience with MLVs, as the previous film he worked on, Elstree Calling, was completed in nine different languages.

Murder!/Mary‘s source text is Enter Sir John (1928), also serialised the same year in US publication Nash’s Magazine. Both were graced with gorgeous illustrations by Sydney Seymour-Lucas. It was written by Clemence Dane, who was by all accounts an unwittingly hilarious conversationalist, and Helen Simpson, who was also a liberal politician before her untimely early death. Despite various authors repeating the claim their novel was adapted for the stage, according to Charles Barr in English Hitchcock (1999), there’s no record of that ever having happened. The rumour seems to have come about due to Dane also being a successful playwright, and the fact that as the book is set within the world of the theatre, the films naturally come across as if they were play adaptations. Much like the oft-repeated falsities of The Mountain Eagle being renamed in the US, or Nita Naldi appearing in The Pleasure Garden, the Murder!-play misapprehension has been perpetuated by numerous lazy authors and non-existent fact checking. For all that, Enter Sir John did at least spawn a rare 1932 sequel titled, somewhat predictably, Re-enter Sir John.

On the subject of associated books, I strongly recommend Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films (2015, Kindle). It has a substantial chapter on both MLVs, with an in-depth analysis of their production and many fascinating differences.

Following the, ahem, execution of its titular subject matter, Murder! threatens to devolve into a similar, albeit highly stylised, vein as later classic courtroom dramas such as 12 Angry Men (1957), before moving firmly into whodunit territory. There are some keenly observed performances from the usual array of Hitch regulars, both credited and uncredited. In particular, look out for former Blackmailer Donald Calthrop, who puts in a brief but nimble turn as both a policeman and a damsel in distress! Without wanting to spoil the outcome, it’s previously often been claimed the killer commits their crime to protect the dreadful secret that they’re actually gay. This is incorrectly seen as a subtext instead of the real reason stated in both the book and film, which happens to be something of which I myself am thoroughly guilty…

A question: there are various timepieces seen during the course of the film, and all display 1:30, either am or pm. Does anyone know the reason for this?

Distinguished British actor Herbert Marshall played Sir John himself and during a lengthy transatlantic career went on to star in Hitch’s second American film, Foreign Correspondent. He also starred in several Hitch-related radio dramas: The Lodger, two of The 39 Steps, Rebecca and, by strange coincidence, the 20 July 1953 Lux Radio Theater adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 short story The Birds – a full 10 years before the release of Hitch’s screen version!

Norah Baring in Murder! (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK Studiocanal DVD

Norah Baring in Murder! UK Studiocanal DVD

All official releases of Murder! feature the original British theatrical version, as opposed to the American, which is shorter by around 10 minutes. Several of them also include an extra “alternative ending”, which is actually the abbreviated last 10 minutes of the American version. It is of interest as it includes two brief specially-shot scenes not present (or necessary) in the British version. They were added to cover gaps in continuity caused by the editing. Confused? Of course not, but this simple concept is clearly beyond the grasp of any number of previous Hitch commentators. The English-language version’s numerous bootlegs mostly contain poor quality copy of the American print. Murder! has seen these official releases so far:

All DVDs have the same solid transfer, though the US has a slight edge in detail over all the others. However, note there are two differing restored soundtracks. One was left unmolested, while at several points on the other the strange decision was taken to replace foley effects or even add new ones altogether. All US releases have original audio, while Euro DVDs have the altered version. Both points also apply to Rich and Strange, part of the same US DVD set.

As for Kino’s region A/1 BD and DVD, they have both MLVs along with a handful of relevant extras, the meatiest of which is a decent but desert-dry audio commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton. Kino’s press release promised the inclusion of a “Hitchcock: The Early Years documentary (52:22)” but it’s disappointingly absent. Not altogether unexpected though: the only Hitch doc with that title I’ve ever heard of is a 24-minute featurette that accompanies every other release of his ITV-owned films, not Studiocanal’s, as with Murder! At least that’s the only blunder, unlike their botched simultaneous release of Blackmail.

Herbert Marshall (centre, with cane) and Edward Chapman (with binoculars) in Murder! (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Ooh, I can hardly bear to look! Herbert Marshall (centre, with cane) and Edward Chapman (with binoculars) reel at the film’s shocking conclusion.


Mary (1931)

Illustrierter Film-Kurier German magazine No. 1554 with Mary (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) cover

Illustrierter Film-Kurier German magazine

It’s easiest to get both MLVs on the aforementioned US Murder! BD, though note Mary is only an SD upscale, so not true HD. It is the only English-friendly option available at present though. She’s also on the R2/PAL German DVD mentioned above, which goes under the film’s German title: Mord – Sir John greift ein! (Murder – Sir John Intervenes!). Unfortunately, in this case Mary only has original German audio, while Murder!/Mord has an optional German dub and subtitles. Mary can also be found on an R2/PAL French DVD of Hitch’s Jamaica Inn. Do beware though: both its films have forced French subtitles, meaning they can’t be turned off . There’s another French disc which came with a Hitchcock DVD-magazine series but is a real rarity. Obviously, it too only has French subs.

Though Hitch’s first eight talkies, prior to The Man Who Knew Too Much, are mostly available in good condition, they would all benefit hugely from a full restoration. This is very unlikely to happen for any of them anytime soon, but even a decent remastering would go a long way. At least the potential addition of subtitles to all of them would help with discerning their many instances of unintelligible dialogue. Alongside various other early copies, the BFI archive holds the original nitrate negative to Murder! I sincerely hope both films will one day receive the loving care they so richly deserve.

The Multiple-Language Version Film: A Curious Moment in Cinema History

Multiple-Language Version Film Collectors’ Guide


For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This guide is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

2 Comments

  1. John Fowler
    August 06, 21:35 Reply
    https://www.blu-ray.com/news/?id=25166 claims that the new Blu-ray of Murder! will be the 2012 BFI restoration Mary will be "Up-res" whatever that is.
    • Brent Reid
      August 06, 23:54 Reply
      Murder! is sourced from the BFI, though not a full restoration; but it's the silents that were restored in 2012. "Up res" means it will be from a standard definition master but encoded in HD. Murder! will look a bit better, while with Mary any improvement over the official DVDs will be marginal.

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