Murder by the Clock

04/08/2021 06:36

Film: Murder by the Clock

Year: 1931

Director: Edward Sloman

Writer: Henry Myers

Starring: William ‘Stage’ Boy, Lilyan Tashman and Irving Pichel



This was another movie that I had never heard of until it popped up on a list of horror movies from 1931. I decided that for my Odyssey Through the Ones, I would give this a viewing. I did read the synopsis here, but aside from that, I came in pretty blind with this one. The synopsis is an elderly woman installs a horn in her crypt in case she’s buried alive.

Now that is part of the premise to the movie, but that really isn’t a major part to be honest. We start in a cemetery where the caretaker is informing a family that they’re closing up and have to go. They inquire why Julia Endicott (Blanche Friderici), her son Philip (Irving Pichel) and her sister of Miss Roberts (Martha Mattox) are allowed to enter. They have special permission due to Julia’s late husband owning the land before it was sold.

The reason for their visit is to pay respects to Julia’s late husband and Philip’s father. Miss Roberts points out the real reason is to check to make sure the horn connected to her tomb is working like the synopsis states. She has a fear of being buried alive. I should also point out here, Julia is hard on her son and he is a bit mentally slow as well. Miss Roberts is quite protective over him though.

They return home and where we also get to meet their new maid, Jane (Sally O’Neil), as well as beat cop that walks around the neighborhood of Officer Cassidy (Regis Toomey). These two provide some levity to things. Jane also informs Julia that her nephew of Herbert (Walter McGrail) is coming over. Julia isn’t thrilled to hear about this, especially if his wife is coming with him. She knows that Laura (Lilyan Tashman) is only with him for her money.

Before he arrives, we see an odd scene with Philip. He wants to kill. When Julia inquires more, Philip doesn’t want to be a soldier, but a murderer. She realizes she cannot leave the fortune to him. She calls for her attorney to make a change to the will, making Philip the sole beneficiary.

We also get to know his wife a bit more. She is having an affair with Thomas Hollander (Lester Vail). He’s a local sculptor who has also been giving her money as Herbert doesn’t make enough for the lifestyle she wants to live. Herbert informs his wife of the change to the will and she subtle convinces him to kill his aunt. She won’t admit to it, but men fall victim to her looks.

With the deed done, Philip becomes the prime suspect. He has one of the best motives for killing her, but Lt. Valcour (William ‘Stage’ Boyd) believes that Herbert has a better one. This causes him to be paranoid. Laura seems to be in control and is planning steps down the line. Lt. Valcour though doesn’t trust her and is out to prove it.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap and where I want to start would be that this movie has an interesting premise, especially for 1931. This is still pretty early in the murder mysteries, but what I like here is that we’re getting a slightly different take on it. This also seems to be leaning into the film noir category since Laura is a femme fatale and really the mastermind of everything here. There is even a bit of flirting between our detective of Lt. Valcour and her as well.

This is something I want to delve a bit more into as well. Laura really uses her sexuality as a weapon to convince Herbert, Tom and even to an extent Philip. The latter I feel bad as he is mentally slow and really buys into what people say about him. She uses all of these men at different times to get what she wants and try to get away with it as well. Lt. Valcour should fall into this a bit as she does try to work her charm on him, but no matter what she does, he is sticking to his guns.

Philip is also an interesting character in all of this. We see that in the beginning, he’s scared to go to the cemetery. Julia is mean to him about this while really the only one who truly cares about him is Miss Roberts. Philip is a psychopath though. He isn’t all there mentally and he probably needs to be in a hospital to better help him. I believe this upbringing doesn’t help in this case either. Julia is hard on him and it has negative effects. There is something interesting from a demonstration that he did that I didn’t initially pick up on that plays back into the explanation in the end that I found interesting.

Then really the last thing I want to point out is from the synopsis. This horn in the tomb is interesting. I’ve heard of this idea with a bell back when science wasn’t great. The movie really points out how important the horn is, but to be honest, it really isn’t as impactful to the story as I thought. I guess it really is a bit of swerve in this respects, but I was thinking back to it constantly and it doesn’t seem as important as they make it out to be.

Moving away from the story, I’ll take this to the acting. No one really blew me away, but I think the acting is solid enough to make this story work. Boyd is good as this detective. I like this is a bit early to film noir, so he’s not blinded by the femme fatale. He wants the truth and I like how determined he is. Tashman is attractive enough to fit her role. I also like her portrayal. When you hear her, you’d think that she is innocent, but we see how evil minded she is. Pichel is good as playing this character that is slow, but strong. He fit there. McGrail is fine along with Vail as men who get sucked into her lies. I thought Friderici plays this mean older woman to a tee. Toomey and O’Neil bring a bit of comedy while Mattox as well as the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.

Then really the last thing to point out here is that we don’t get a lot in the way of effects. It is early cinema and also not really that type of movie so it doesn’t need them. The cinematography is much of the same. It doesn’t stand out, but shot well. The copy I was watching wasn’t great so there is that as well. Then finally the soundtrack was fine, but I did want to comment on the design. The horn that is used was effective. It doesn’t really amount to much in my opinion. It is effective when you hear it and know exactly what it is.

In conclusion here, I think this is an interesting early murder mystery. I’m surprised to see this is listed as horror, but I think the possibility of being buried alive and what the movie makes us believe that Philip is capable of makes sense. There is a greed and murder as well. I think that the concept of this movie is really interesting, especially for 1931. The acting helps bring these characters to life. The sound design of the horn is effective and I’d say the cinematography, effects and soundtrack fit for what was needed. I would say this is an above average movie and one that I think should be seen more.


My Rating: 7 out of 10