Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Signpost To Murder

Thanks to TCM and similar channels, it’s become possible to check out all manner of rather obscure movies and one of the latest I’ve seen is Signpost to Murder, starring a young Joanne Woodward and the rather less celebrated Stuart Whitman. It’s a black and white film from the early sixties, based on a play by Monte Doyle, which still turns up from time to time in productions by provincial repertory companies. The play was evidently a success in its day, although Doyle’s career appears to have been short-lived.

Most films based on stage plays struggle to conceal their theatrical origins, and this one is no exception. The main action is confined to a single, albeit elaborate set, a house dominated by a huge water wheel, located in an isolated rural community. Whitman is an allegedly insane convicted murderer, on the run after escaping from the institution where he has been confined for the past five years. Woodward is waiting for her husband to return from a plane trip and after Whitman breaks in and threatens her with a gun, she finds herself forced to co-operate with his attempts to escape justice. A relationship develops between them, with a touch of Stockholm Syndrome about it, but then a body turns up, and the plot twists begin.

The mystery is cunningly contrived, with a dramatic finale. Woodward and Whitman give charismatic performances, unlike the rest of a rather unconvincing cast, and one is only just able to forgive the dialogue, which creaks like the water wheel. Worth watching, but no masterpiece – more like a period piece.

2 comments:

Maxine said...

It sounds both good and as if you deserve thanks for not making anyone else spend 1.5 hours (or whatever) sitting through it. Maybe this is a case for a review where it would be a public service to give away the ending?

Martin Edwards said...

What can I say that is helpful but not a complete spoiler? Well, the bad person is someone we assume throughout to be on the side of the angels. The clever bit of the plotting is that the nature of the build-up means that we don't necessarily expect that kind of Christie-like twist. Some of the best mysteries work like this, shifting in a direction that wasn't expected. Pity it wasn't a better movie.