Homicide in fin de siècle London, a Robert Siodmak formulation: "I’d like to know what’s going on inside your head." "It’s much better that you shouldn’t, dear. Might frighten you." One year before Scarlet Street, here's the gentlemanly tobacconist "of a few peculiarities" (Charles Laughton) who has had enough of the domineering shrew (Rosalind Ivan) and honors his "till death do us part" vows with an impromptu Christmas Eve bludgeoning. Thus freed, he weds the young stenographer (Ella Raines) he was chastely courting only to realize that, just as he killed to end a relationship, he will have to kill again to save another. On the sidelines there’s the union of the abusive misanthrope (Henry Daniell) and the battered wallflower (Molly Lamont) next door, evocatively reminiscent of the marital shackles of the crofter’s wife in The 39 Steps. And surveying them all is the shrewd Scotland Yard inspector (Stanley Ridges), who fondles the protagonist’s guilt with a methodical demonstration of the art of mise en scène: As he reenacts the harridan’s death in sinuous, extended takes, the detective essentially takes over Siodmak’s position as image-smith, dimming the lights, guiding the camera’s gaze up and down the staircase, and throwing noir shadows onto the cozy period textures. "Here’s to love grown cold," Daniell’s blackmailing scoundrel toasts, moments later Laughton is whipping up a cocktail of whiskey and anodyne. (The poisoned-corpse-behind-the-couch sequence that ensues, with a suddenly crowded drawing-room and a curious kitten pawing at a discarded watch chain, is a deft bit of escalating tension that Hitchcock would dilate into Rope.) A biting tale of three marriages, two wretched ones finally salvaged by murder and a joyous one eventually brought down by that pesky hobgoblin, "sense of decency." With Dean Harens, Raymond Severn, and Eve Amber. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce