Please Murder Me! recalls the joy of a case that goes back to basics, and that’s not a comment on the film being black and white. Plain murder has become obsolete in fiction today, unable to cut it when there are dozens of other procedurals on the air and on bookshelves. Complications and serial killers, those are the touchstones of modern crime dramas. Nobody considers rolling back on the flash.
Screenplay writers, Al C. Ward and Donald Hyde, didn’t have to contend with the temptation to throw in technobabble when they wrote Please Murder Me!, any more than they had current strides in technology and forensics at their disposal. CSI, with its alleged ‘CSI effect,’ was a pinprick in the future. Not having those avenues for storytelling doesn’t explain how the film crackles in 2017, a year when audiences expect crime to be addressed with science.
Please Murder Me! begins with Craig (Raymond Burr) earnestly telling his best friend from wartime, Joe Leeds (Dick Foran), that he’s in love with his woman and she wants a divorce. Joe asks for time to process this information but takes the news pretty well. Craig’s like a brother, you see, a brother who’s having an affair with your wife, and you can’t let a bond like marriage get in the way of friendship.
Joe’s wife, Myra (Angela Lansbury) gives a different account of Joe’s reception, one where Joe storms into her room one night determined to kill her, except Myra kills him first. It’s self-defense but her case needs to be heard at trial. Craig, being a lawyer, is eager to speak on her behalf. His conflict of interest and indelicacy, asking her to marry him during a council session, somehow doesn’t get turned against him.
Joe was killed by a gunshot wound but at no point does DNA or blood splatter come into discussion. Instead the prosecution points to puddles and perfume bottles to illustrate their case. The simplicity of the evidence is what makes it compelling and easy to follow. Other than the prosecutor’s outdated argument that couples don’t fall out of love in two years, so Myra must never have loved Joe, everything is logical.
Lou (Robert Griffin), the last person to see Joe alive besides Myra, has a letter for Craig that Joe gave him before he died. Lou had forgotten to mail it but, in his defense, he had a lot on his mind when Joe told him to, “Stop living in a dream world, Lou!” while he was leaving. Needless to say, the letter changes everything and the game becomes making Myra feel uneasy about her chances of getting away.
Cautious and obedient, Lansbury’s Myra is connivingly convincing in her part. Everything is procedure. She could be facing a parking ticket, the way she treats the legal system as a process to be followed and done with, not a threat. More men speak earnestly, but she’s the woman who breaks their hearts. Angela Lansbury didn’t grow to become a great actress. She started great.
Please Murder Me! streams free on Amazon Prime.