#182: The Studio Murder Mystery
Initial release: June 1, 1929
Director: Frank Tuttle
Look, sometimes I just get the bug in my head to watch some random crap on the thinnest of inspirations, and this is one of those cases. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes not. I’m on the fence about Frank Tuttle’s early talkie The Studio Murder Mystery, though.
The film opens with a scream and someone falling down the stairs, his murderer chasing after him with a knife… only to berate him for his bad acting. (Somewhere, someone is being reminded of Hotline Miami 2’s opening.) It’s late at night, and the director is trying to rehearse with his hopeless lead, who’s just a rando who won a contest. This is one of the more clever bits in a film that, for most of it’s 60 minutes and change of running time, is largely a potboiler whodunit that takes a full half of its length for anyone to actually turn up dead (it’s the rando, the wealthy Mr. Hardell.)
The police have no shortage of suspects. First there’s our director, Mr. Borka, who thinks Hardell was sleeping with his wife. There’s Hardell’s wife, who Hardell was cheating on… with the night watchman’s daughter, who’s furious that Hardell lied about divorcing his wife. Rounding out the suspect list are the daughter’s overprotective brother, and a boisterous gag writer who has a thing for the daughter as well — and isn’t afraid to butt heads with the gruff police detective.
As for who-actually-dunnit? you can see it a mile away.
There’s not really a lot that this movie has to offer. It’s an early talkie, which means it has all the problems that earlie talkies had. Production values are low, the sound effects are awful, and any scene with camera movement is silent with audio obviously dubbed over.
Of course, given that this is, at heart, a film about the movie business, it does give us an inside look at what a movie studio — in this case, Paramount — looked like in the late 1920s. This opportunity to see how movies just like this one were made is the best part of the film. It’s got it all: the booths that cameras used to be housed in, an obvious silent film in progress complete with on-set orchestra because they couldn’t figure out any other way to add music to film, and there’s even the famous main gate of Paramount’s studios itself. So while the movie itself doesn’t have much to offer (beyond an endless series of zingers from a nearly fetal Neil Hamilton, who’d later play Commissioner Gordon in the 1960s Batman TV show) it’s at least interesting as a sort of time capsule from a bygone era of film.
And if you don’t believe me about this film, you can watch it for yourself for free on Youtube. It is in incredibly poor shape, but given that it’s Fredric March’s third film it’s a possible target for a remaster someday… until then, watch it in scratch-o-vision here.