Archive for mystery

Murder by Television

Posted in Murder Mystery with tags , , , , , on January 4, 2010 by shesaidsvengali

Murder by Television - 1935

I should begin here by telling you that I love Bela Lugosi. I don’t mean I love him like I love cloves, bad movies, or guitar feedback. Oh no, I love him with a lust that has surpasses time and space causing me to wonder if the desire to surrender my body to his visage on-screen makes me a necrophiliac or just a fan girl. I mean, I don’t want to make out with his bones or anything – but as he was on film – zounds! I don’t know what the fascination with William Powell and Clark Gable was; Bela Lugosi was clearly a walking streak of sex. So, it was out of my lust – I mean love for Mr. Lugosi that I chose to review the cinematic gem Murder by Television.

Haven’t heard of it? Well, who could blame you? Made in 1935, this B-rate flick of the highest order is as politically incorrect as it is technologically outlandish. The only reason to watch may be the fact that Lugosi is in it. The premise revolves around the newly invented television and the advent of mass broadcast. Inventor James Houghland has discovered the key to mass broadcast without the use of relays (although I don’t know how that would have been possible without satellites). The networks (also in their infancy) want this technology so much that they are willing to kill for it, leaving Houghland dead and the rest of the cast involved in a whodunit mystery reminiscent of the game CLUE!

Lugosi plays Houghland’s assistant, Arthur Perry, a rather small part, but still manages to give one of the best performances in the film. He is definitely the diamond in the rough when you compare his performance to some of the others. While it is sometimes hard to decipher what is going on with his character in the film, the fault lies not with Lugosi, but rather with the writing. Among the many story problems that become immediately evident is the fact that Lugosi’s accent marks him as an outsider, but no one seems to notice. It is as though he was just like everyone else, but with a speech impediment or something. It is very strange considering the racial atmosphere of the film.

Comic relief is provided by the antics of the wise cracking Chinese butler and the “mammy” style black cook. Upon further investigation, I discovered that this actress actually played “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind as well as many other similar parts throughout her career. While these two functioned well as comic relief, it was rather uncomfortable to watch them in these antiquated and brutally racist roles. It’s almost painful to watch, and it’s an interesting dichotomy to the avoidance of Lugosi’s “otherness”. Another instance of racial stereotyping can be seen in the portrayal of the bumbling Irish gardener, however, because his role is less prevalent the racism is not as glaring.

If the viewer is able to ignore the blatant racial prejudice present within the film, there is still the matter of complete and utter stupidity when it comes to the method of murder in this murder mystery. What was supposed to have been a heartening warning against the unknown powers of new technology looks ridiculous when judged by today’s standards. The characters in the film are marveling over television – meanwhile I can watch that self-same film on my Ipod while I am running on the treadmill at the gym. The premise is simply nonsensical. That said, if you are a fan of Lugosi or if you like watching ridiculous murder mysteries, you could do a lot worse than Murder by Television. From a technical aspect it is a decent film with fairly good production quality. The basic script elements are present and fleshed out. The issue with Murder by Television is that it is based on a really dumb idea.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, Murder by Television!