Please Murder Me (1956)

Please Murder Me (1956)

Toronto Film Society presented Please Murder Me on Sunday, January 19, 2014 in a double bill with The Unfaithful, as part of the Season 66 Sunday Afternoon Film Buff Series, Programme 4.

Producer: Donald Hyde. Director: Peter Godfrey. Script: Donald Hyde, Al C. Ward. Story: David T. Chantler, Edward André Dupont.  Cinematography: Alan Stensvold. Music: Albert Glasser. Editor: Kenneth G. Crane.

Cast: Angela Lansbury (MyraLeeds), Raymond Burr (Attorney Craig Carlson), Dick Foran (Joe Leeds), John Dehner (District.Attorney Ray Wllis), Lamont Johnson (Carl Holt), Robert Griffin (Lou Kazarian), Denver Pyle (Lieut. Bradley) Alex Sharp (Sergeant Hill)

Plot

Please Murder Me (1956)As in Double Indemnity, the film is told largely through flashback, from the point of view of criminal lawyer Craig Carlson (Raymond Burr) who has won an acquittal for his client, the wife of his best friend, who is accused of murdering her husband but with whom Carlson is hopelessly in love. After the verdict, he finds that she did commit the murder and manipulated him to win her acquittal and to inherit her rich husband’s estate.. Guilt-ridden, and knowing that she can’t be tried again for the murder, he devises a plot to bring her to justice.

Critical response

Typical comments praise the acting rather than the script or direction, as in: “this low budget reworking of Double Indemnity works better than it should thanks to the quality of its cast. Burr, Angela Lansbury and John Dehner all give performances better than the ordinary script warrants”. Or: “Solid film noir, great cast. Raymond Burr and Angela Lansbury are both terrific. Good courtroom scenes. Suspenseful. Weak supporting cast, though.” Or: “The film’s implausible gimmick is given away by the title. What makes his programmer satisfying are the solid performances by Raymond Burr and Angela Lansbury.”

Raymond Burr (!917-1993)

Please Murder Me (1956)Born in New Westminster, British   Columbia, he moved to California after his parents divorced and attended a military academy for a while, though many other supposedly biographical details were apparently invented by him later. He began an acting career in1937 and had his first Broadway role in 1941, after which he became a contract player for RKO, appearing as a film noir villain in Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal (1947), followed by a similar role in Pitfall (1948). His best later film performances were in A Place in the Sun (1951) and especially Rear Window (1954). His later career, however, was mostly in television, where he became famous as Erle Stanley Gardner’s  Perry Mason from 1957 to 1966, for which he won two Emmy Awards, and then Ironside from 1967 to 1975, for which he also received several Emmy nominations. Later series were less successful, though he worked regularly in television and occasionally in film until shortly before his death. Information about his private life is often suspect or unverifiable, though it was widely known in Hollywood that he was homosexual.

Angela Lansbury (born 1925)

Please Murder Me (1956)Born in England, to an Irish mother and an English father who was an active politician in the Communist party, she became obsessed with theatre and film and began to study acting in 1940. Her father died when she was nine and she moved to New   York with her mother (a film and theatre actress) in 1940 to study acting, then joined her mother in Hollywood. where she met the playwright  and scriptwriter John Van Druten who recommended her for a role in the film of the play Gaslight, directed by George Cukor, for which she received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. This was followed by a small role in National Velvet (1944) and then a major role in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), for which she again received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe award. But this led only to a series of mediocre films for MGM, who treated her simply as a B-list actress, to her increasing dissatisfaction. When her MGM contract ended she  worked in some better received films, most notably The Manchurian Candidate in 1962, but  moved more frequently to theatre and achieved stardom for the musical Mame in 1966. Like Burr, however, she achieved her greatest fame in television for a long-running drama series, Murder, She Wrote,  from 1984 to 1996. She won numerous nominations and awards for both film and television and received an Honorary Oscar award in 2013.

She was married twice and had two children with her second husband, both of whom became involved for a time in the drug culture of the 1960s and 1970s, and she has been a generous supporter of several philanthropic charities.

 Notes by Graham Petrie

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