Most of the classic horror movies
have been dealt with in some depth, but many of the remaining horror films have
subsequently been ignored.The Missing Link reviews Murder by
the Clock, an early horror gem that is long overdue for attention.
The Clock (1931)
The blood-chilling mystery of a man who was
(Paramount) 76mins. BW. US.
Credits: Dir: Edward Sloman; Sc: Henry Myers,
Rufus King & Charles Beahan; Ph: Karl Struss.
From a play by Charles Beahan & a novel by Rufus King.
Pichel, Lilyan Tashman, William Boyd,
Regis Toomey, Blanche Frederici, Walter McGrail, Sally O'Neil, Martha Mattox, Lester Vail, Frank Sheridan, Frederick Sullivan,
Willard Robertson, Charles D. Brown, John Rogers, Lenita Lane, Harry Burgess.
are very few films from the first wave of horror that have escaped modern-day attention.
The true classics such as Dracula, Frankenstein, The
Mummy, King Kong and Paramount's Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have been thoroughly
probed and dissected, while the offshoots to these films have equally been
scrutinised in some detail. However, it is with great delight to uncover another worthy
addition to this roster with 1931's MURDER BY THE CLOCK
The film's deserved place in the "horror hall of fame" has been denied primarily
due to the lack of exposure it has received. Only William K. Everson has sung its praises
in the seminal tome "Classics of the Horror Film", but even here the film
is not looked at in any depth. The film contains all the trappings to make early horror
film fans lick their lips in anticipation, for in fact MURDER BY THE CLOCK is a
full-blooded treat which should be available for all to enjoy.
The setting begins at a cemetery where Mrs. Julia Endicott, (Blanche Frederici), her
half-wit son Phillip, (Irving Pichel), and their housekeeper Mrs. Roberts, (Martha
Mattox), are placing flowers at Mr. Endicott's resting place in the family mausoleum where
a device has been insalled to sound a horn to alert any passersby that the occupant has
been buried alive. At Endicott manor, conveniently linked to the cemetery
by an underground passageway, Endicott's nephew, a milksop named Herbert, (Walter
McGrail), and his scheming wife Laura, (Lilyan Tashman), pay a visit. Herbert stands to
inherit the entire estate when his aunt dies, but Laura cannot wait that long and forces
her husband to throttle the aunt to death.
Dim-witted Phillip becomes the prime suspect and is promplty dragged off to the cells, but
square-jawed Lieutenant Valcour, (William Boyd), remains unconvinced of the son's guilt
and embarks on an investigation of his own.
pays a visit to Phillip at the gaol and promises to be his if he can escape and kill
Herbert for her. Knowing that the half-wit will probably bungle the job she visits her
secret paramour Tom Hollander, (Lester Vail), a struggling sculptor who wishes to give her
anything she wants in return for some attention. Laura also convinces Tom to kill Herbert
so that they can be together and obviously she will inherit the Endicott fortune.
Phillip manages to escape, but it is Tom who finds Herbert and strangles him. When he
tells Laura of his crime, she nonchanlantly announces that she never meant for Tom to
murder her husband and that he really only has himself to blame! However, it seems that
Herbert survived the attack and a doctor tries to revive him while Tom attempts to finish
him off as Herbert regains conciousness. When Lieutenant Valcour and the police turn up in
the nick of time, the horn from the crypt sounds and seemingly an image of the late Mrs.
Endicott passes by the window. Upon seeing the sight Herbert suffers a
heart attack and dies.
Meanwhile Tom has escaped the arm of the law and attempts to wrestle a kiss from Laura who
hisses with delight when Phillip appears and breaks the man's neck. Phillip grabs Laura
and takes her to the crypt where Lieutenant Valcour rescues her from the giant's lustful
intentions. When Laura tries to charm the lieutenat, Valcour agrees "Yes
we'll go away together....to the police station!"
Irving Pichel provides most of the horror, the real monster is Lilyan Tashman. As old Mrs.
Endicott describes her near the beginning of the film, "She's a malicious
designing creature....She ought to be hanged as a witch!"
Tashman's portrayal of this temptress is a delight to watch. Her satin dress leaves little
to the imagination and even at the old lady's sombre funeral she is dressed as if ready
for a night on the town.
Born in Brooklyn in 1900, Tashman made her film debut at the tender age of seventeen. Her
only other credit in the horror genre is in The Cat
Creeps (1930), but never was she afforded such a role as in MURDER BY THE CLOCK.
Shortly after making RIPTIDE for MGM. in 1934, she died of a tumorous condition.
Her death at an early age contributes to her lack of recognition by film buffs today.
Tashman's spotlight in this film is shared with Irving Pichel (1891-1954),
a tall heavy man whose acting credits were mostly limited to villains including his role
as Sandor, Gloria Holden's ghoulish henchman in Dracula's
Daughter (1936). Despite his screen roles, Pichel was a gentle man whose films that he
directed often contained a lot of sentiment, playing heavily on an audiences emotions. In
contrast his horror film output was most notably horrific as seen in 1932's The Most Dangerous Game which he co-directed with
E.B. Schoedsack; Before Dawn (1933) based on the
story "Death Watch" by Edgar Wallace, and Earthbound
(1940) for 20th Century Fox. Pichel also received a co-director credit for She
(1935) and George Pal's Destination Moon (1950).
Paramount had been grooming Pichel as a rival to Universal's Boris Karloff, but although
his size gave him presence there was no room for subtlety in his performance. In MURDER
BY THE CLOCK, Pichel's performance is played with brutal relish, using his deep
sepulchral tones to become a shambling oaf with the mentality of an infant. In the film
when he is asked what he'd do if left on his own, without a pause Pichel exclaims "kill!"
"You want to be a soldier?" his mother enquires,
"No. No guns...Knives! Heh...heh...heh...Or with my
hands!...Heh...heh...heh!" It is this tactless honesty that
makes the dim-witted Phillip an obvious suspect for any victim found at the Endicott
Also in the cast is Martha Mattox
(1879-1933) who previously provided the scowling maid Mammy Pleasant in Paul Leni's The Cat and the Canary (1927).
William Boyd, not to be confused with William "Stage" Boyd, was a leading man in
films from 1919 and became synonymous as cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy in numerous features
from 1934 to 1948.
Regis Toomey (1907-1991) appears as a stereotypical Irish policeman named Cassidy whose
comic relief is thankfully kept to a minimum as the plot unfolds.
The capable Edward Sloman directs cinematographer Karl Struss who previously had shared
an Academy Award with Charles Rosher for Murnau's SUNRISE, and here moves the camera into
every nook and cranny of the set, appropriately lit for greater shadowplay.
Despite British cinemas withdrawing the film after public protest, MURDER BY THE
CLOCK has few flaws, and it is a shame that it has slipped through the net during
reappraisals of the classics. If for nothing else it deserves attention for
Tashman's definitive femme fatale which has to be seen to be believed.
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