Monday, August 19, 2013

MURDER BY THE CLOCK (1931)

[No screenshots since my print was totes murky.  No IMDB keywords, either!]

Oh, those conniving blonde women!  They just get blonder and more conniving as the years pass by.  MURDER BY THE CLOCK proves this theory, as blonde conniver Laura Endicott (Lilyan Tashman) manipulates all the boys in town into murdering for her.  The ultimate goal of all this violence is her in-laws' family fortune, which is up for grabs now that dotty old Aunt Julia has croaked.  And she never even got to use the foghorn she installed in her tomb.  

"Selecting a horrifying bleating sound as your rescue alarm in case of premature burial" is just one fun element and poor decision in this old dark house movie.  "Old dark house" could be considered a kind of subgenre or atrophied limb of horror.  It flourished briefly in the 30s, after studio executives saw the ticket stats for DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN.  Immediately after, they started pumping more horror content into their stagey mystery-comedies.  And here we are!

Most of these were literally culled from stage plays and not fancy Shakespeare stuff, so the light dinner-theater feel and structure often got ported over into the screen version.  In CLOCK's case, this appears in the ethnic banter of an immigrant policeman and equally immigrant maid.  The Irish cop gets exchanges like...

"Cassidy, you ever have a hunch?"  

"I certainly did.  I was gonna get married once and something told me not to...it was the girl's husband."  

DEAD PEOPLE LAUGH TRACK.  To be fair, most of these scenes are pretty diverting and give us some respite from Laura and her money & credit card-eating vagina, and also from mentally retarded and moderately homicidal cousin Philip (Irving Pichel, in a performance for the ages).  Yes, a retarded person's urge to kill is exploited and, incredibly, PLAYED FOR LAUGHS in this movie.  The 30s were certainly a golden era for sensitivity.

The complexity and plot busyness of old dark house movies are part of the fun.  CLOCK delivers on this front, with its array of killer simpletons, crypt chimes, and (most bafflingly of all) a central subplot which involves resuscitation of a murder victim, with all kinds of wonderful BS science included:

"If you bring him back to life, he'll be able to tell us who killed him!"

...and...

"His mind will begin working at exactly the point where it left off."

Like murder victim brains function the way DVD pause buttons do!  Splendid!  This is a lot of ghastly fun.  It's not horror, per se, but it has horror elements and is a good representation of the ODH genre (which definitely would include some horror-heavy titles).  The cast is pretty spectacular, especially Tashman as the vamp, who deftly balances wanton-woman menace with humor that's darker than black.  As stated, it's primarily entertainment for murdered brains, not a piece of art that aspires to eternity, so I can't give a great rating, but a very respectable devil's number has definitely been earned.

RATING: 6

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