Friday, December 14, 2012


Manderson, a rich American businessman living in England, is found dead in the garden of his estate, an apparent suicide. Crime reporter Philip Trent sneaks into Manderson's mansion and, with the implicit permission of Inspector Murch, begins his own investigation. Manderson's widow Margaret mentions that her late husband had been moody lately; is it because he suspected that she was having an affair with Marlow, one of his trusted private secretaries? Bunner, the other secretary, testifies at the inquest that Manderson was about to fire Marlow, but was it really Bunner he didn't trust? Had there been threatening letters from someone? And what about Cupples, Margaret's seemingly harmless uncle, whom the butler overheard arguing with Manderson the night before his death? Margaret finally tells Trent that her husband caught her and Marlow kissing and that's why he killed himself. But could Marlow have killed Manderson, then gone to great lengths to make it look like suicide? Or could Margaret have done it herself? Eventually, a long flashback scene shows us most of what really happened, though in a clever twist, it turns out that there is one last puzzle piece needed to wrap the case up.

This is based on a 1920s novel famous for being one of the first satires of the detective genre, but this version, though fairly light in tone, is hardly satirical; the screenplay makes it into just another B-mystery, albeit one acted quite good-naturedly with a standout performance by Orson Welles as Manderson, not seen until the lengthy flashback sequence begins an hour into the 90-minute movie. As usual, Welles makes the most of his screen time, pretty much wiping everyone else into the dustbin. Michael Wilding is cheerful but unmemorable as Trent, and the lovely Margaret Lockwood (pictured with Wilding) never gets a handle on her character. John McCallum is a little better as Marlow, but more fun are Hugh McDermott as the possibly unreliable Bunner and Miles Malleson as Cupples who plays a surprisingly crucial role in the case. There is never much at stake here, but the film is mildly enjoyable and gets even better when Welles arrives. [TCM]

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