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 Missing Link Proudly Presents

Murder by the Clock--courtesy of Ronald V. BorstMurder By The Clock (1931)

The blood-chilling mystery of a man who was murdered twice!

(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.
Cast: Irving 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.

There 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,Tashman visits Pichel in Murder by the Clock (1931) 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.
Irving Pichel in Murder by the Clock (1931)Laura 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!"

Lilyan Tashman & Lester Vail in Murder by the ClockAlthough 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 alsoVail & Tashman in the cemetery 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 manor.

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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