wed 07/06/2023

The Hitchcock Players: Herbert Marshall, Murder! | reviews, news & interviews

The Hitchcock Players: Herbert Marshall, Murder!

The Hitchcock Players: Herbert Marshall, Murder!

To espouse the gentlemanly art of solving murder, Hitchcock turned to a supremely urbane British stage veteran

A voice smooth as silk: Herbert Marshall as Sir John Menier in 'Murder!'Studio Canal

The epithet "mellifluous" might have been invented to describe Herbert Marshall’s voice. It was lucky that sound came along at the time Marshall, after a prestigious stage career, entered films when he was almost 40. We don’t hear those beautiful tones until some time into Murder!

Marshall, as the theatrical knight, Sir John Menier, is first seen as a member of a jury at a murder trial of a young actress. While 11 of the jury members discuss the case, Menier is neither seen nor heard. After they have agreed on a guilty verdict, Menier then makes his "not guilty" view known. Gradually, with the jury members chanting in chorus, he is persuaded against his inclination to vote with them.

The next morning, in a celebrated sequence, Menier, while shaving and listening to the prelude to Tristan and Isolde on the radio, expresses his doubts about the woman’s guilt in a voiceover, his face registering a range of emotions in tune with the music. 

Marshall brilliantly keeps a straight face during the film’s absurd dénouement

Later, Marshall is given an opportunity to display his elegance and wit in a scene in which Menier provides lunch in his office for a stage manager (Edward Chapman) and his flighty actress wife (Phyllis Konstam). When she mistakenly takes a teaspoon with which to eat her soup, he delicately takes a teaspoon for his soup too so as not to embarrass her. Yet Marshall brilliantly manages to keep a straight face during the film’s absurd dénouement.  

It was Murder! that launched Marshall on a long and prestigious Hollywood career although he was not particularly good-looking, and he had a wooden leg, which gave him a rather stiff gait. Nevertheless he had that voice, an urbane sensibility and a deliciously ironic twinkle in his eye, which Hitchcock was astute enough to recognise and exploit. 

Murder! is showing in the BFI's The Genius of Hitchcock season on 23 August

Murder! screens at BFI Southbank today. Watch the shaving scene below

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