“Dear Ray: In exactly… 55 minutes, I will be dead. Murdered. First of all, let me explain, I find myself completely sober, reasonably sane, and not at all surprised. It started back in World War II…”
These words (and further explanation of the speaker’s past) make one hell of an opening to Please Murder Me, a 1956 noir film. Just before the credits, we see a man buy a gun; the opening titles roll, and the man returns to his office to record this ominous message.
The words are spoken by Craig Carlson (Raymond Burr), who met Joe Leeds (Dick Foran) in the war. Craig’s life was saved by Joe during the Iwo Jima campaign. The two friends recently reconnected, a few months ago.
Flashing back, we learn just why Craig expects to be murdered. He betrayed his friend, carrying on an affair with Myra (Angela Lansbury), Joe’s wife. This is more than just a friendship that goes sour over a love triangle, though. The trio descends into a downward spiral of violence and murder.
Peter Godfrey directs Please Murder Me, written for the screen by Al C. Ward and Donald Hyde. The film is based on an original story by E. A. DuPont.
Raymond Burr starred in a number of tense noir films that are underrated by today’s audiences. Here on TMP, I’ve reviewed Pitfall (in which he portrays a smarmy detective) and Raw Deal (in which he portrays a man who let another take the fall for a crime). I greatly enjoyed both of those films, so with Burr and the great Angela Lansbury at the helm of this shadowy drama, I had high hopes going in.
Please Murder Me is a pretty good watch. Part courtroom drama and part thriller, the film is bolstered by the performances of Burr and Lansbury. These two actors set the bar of my expectations for the film, and they did not disappoint.
Burr’s character is not quite as criminal here as in the two previously-mentioned films, or many of his other intimidating roles. (Readers less interested in forgotten noir than I may remember him best from Rear Window.)
Craig is a lawyer, and a very good one, buying into Myra’s self-defense story and arguing the case diligently in court. It is his devotion to Myra that leads to his downfall. Burr returns to the sinister type I’m used to seeing from him by the end of the film, playing both the good and the evil sides of his role very successfully.
As for the story, it’s fairly standard. A love triangle, a death, a sneaky femme fatale: the plot that comes to mind when you read these words, if you’re at all familiar with the noir genre, is exactly the plot you get from Please Murder Me. There are a few twists thrown into the second half, but they’re small twists. Genre enthusiasts won’t mind this at all, but if you’re new to noir and looking for a film that will shock you with its plot developments, look elsewhere.
Please Murder Me is a pretty good flick, with good lead performances, especially by Burr. If you’re interested in watching, the film is available in the public domain and can easily be found online, as well as inexpensively on DVD.* The score: 3/5
*I own this film on DVD as part of the Mill Creek “50 Dark Crimes” box set, which is how I watched it for review. It is also available to download for free through the Internet Archive.