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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Rx Murder (Prescription for Murder, Fox Cinema Archives)
Rx Murder (Prescription for Murder, Fox Cinema Archives)
Fox Cinema Archives // Unrated // November 20, 2014
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted December 31, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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Disappointingly pedestrian British murder mystery. 20th Century-Fox's Cinema Archives line of hard-to-find library and cult titles has released Rx Murder (a.k.a. Prescription for Murder), the 1958 thriller from England's Templar Productions (most of the production money came from releaser Fox, though). Based on the crime novel The Deeds of Doctor Deadcert from Joan Fleming, written and directed by Derek Twist, and starring Rick Jason, Lisa Gastoni, Marius Goring, Sandu Scott, Phyllis Neilson-Terry, and Mary Merrall, Rx Murder is one of many now little-seen "foreign" Bs produced with frozen American studio funds after the war. This one features fairly good performances, but unfortunately its mystery is as tired as its direction is listless (and don't hope for any socko CinemaScope vistas of late '50s England...most of Rx Murder takes place in hotel rooms). An original trailer for this nice anamorphically-enhanced widescreen black and white transfer is included.

At a sleepy, off-the-beaten-path Devonshire resort in the coastal town of Frogmouth, England, the arrival of a sharp, young American customer like Jethro Jones (Rick Jason) is bound to start tongues wagging among the elderly citizens who live at the swank hotel. Snooty Lady Lacy (Phyllis Neilson-Terry) and the Colonel (Nicholas Hannen) don't approve at all of the brash Yank (he had the ill-breeding to eat marmalade with his bacon the first morning), but sweet old gossip Miss Bettyhill (Mary Merrall) can't help but be tickled by the handsome journalist's jaunty politeness (he boldly calls her "Honeybunch," to her delight). There's only one problem, though: Jethro Jones is really Dr. Jethro Forbes, and he's in Frogmouth to ferret out the truth about the town's beloved Dr. Henry Dysert (Marius Goring). You see, Forbes' ex-wife, the beautiful, rich, stacked Stella (Sandu Scott) was married to Dr. Dysert...before she died a mysterious death. Come to think of it...Dr. Dysert's two wives before Stella also kicked it under questionable circumstances. However, the town's citizens would never dream of even thinking something was untoward with "Dr. Deadcert." Trying to get a line of why Dr. Dysert can't possibly be that perfect, Jones discovers the Dysert is treating his former secretary, Kitty Mortlock (Lisa Gastoni), for an unspecified illness. Kitty is gorgeous and rich, and Dysert ministers to her daily. He even wants to marry her. But she just can't seem to get well, having relapse after relapse....

There is no reviewer on the DVDTalk staff that was more predisposed to give Rx Murder a positive review before he even saw it, than me. An avowed Anglophile (we should have a king in this country--forgot, we do), anything from British cinema, regardless of the time period (but particularly post-WWII to early '70s) is going to get my immediate, rapt attention, especially if it's a rare, little-seen widescreen title like this one. So when I say Rx Murder is a depressing disappointment, you can believe it. Produced by John Gossage (Green Grow the Rushes, The Gamma People), and written and directed by Derek Twist (All Over the Town, Green Grow the Rushes, Police Dog), Rx Murder starts off promisingly enough, with a bit of Separate Tables-like comedy as all the stuffy, gossipy old dears at the resort twitter on, followed by a funny cut to Rick Jason sleeping on the train...after Mary Merrall exclaims how American are always full of energy. Ironically, once the murder mystery kicks in, these amusing moments are left behind for a set-up that's shaky, at best (they should have put adorable Merrall at Jason's side for the entire show, as a sort of junior grade Miss Marple). Why, exactly, is Jason coming all the way over to England to see what happened to his ex-wife? He still loved her? He worried about what happened to her all these years later? Why? When we see the flashbacks of her marriage to Goring--the only lively part of Rx Murder, thanks to horny Sandu--insulting his manhood and throwing herself at other men, we wonder if that's why she's divorced from Jason. So...he's curious about her death why? But that's still early days when we initially puzzle over that sticking point, and we're inclined to allow it to slip, as long as our expectations are fulfilled that the conventions of the genre will be trotted out to entertaining-if-familiar results.

Unfortunately, they're not. Instead of seeing what we need to see, we're told about far too many things in Rx Murder, with one dull exposition flashback scene following another, frequently staged in skimpily-dressed interior rooms, or in front of poor rear-projection mock-ups of anonymous seascapes or automobiles, giving the movie a further "canned" feel. Worse, we quickly discover there's going to be no real suspense in Rx Murder. We already know Goring is the murderer; this isn't a "whodunit," but rather a "how-and-whydunit," and sadly, the answers aren't all that interesting when finally revealed. Not helping here is Goring's portrayal of the deadly doctor. For the character to work, we either have to buy he's somehow weirdly compelling or even sexy to the three wives he hooks--particularly pistol Sandu--or he has to be so reassuringly intimidating that you'd buy the whole town must be brain dead not to connect up his three rich wives in short order turning into three corpses. Goring, however, is strangely disconnected, playing arch and distant, which works against what we're told by everyone else: that he's beloved. By the last reel, we simply can't believe no one hasn't seen the doctor for what he is...or that Jason is so stupid as to SPOILERS ALERT! allow Goring to maneuver him into a potentially deadly showdown. Even the editing is poor here--a surprise from former editor Twist. Does Merrall actually hit Goring with her umbrella--another deliciously camp idea that goes unexplored here? Or does Goring merely fall from fright? The cutting suggests both, which doesn't help. Ultimately, you don't care, because the mystery isn't mysterious, the hero isn't heroic, and the killer isn't even remotely threatening. And that's a prescription not for murder, but for tedium.

The Video:
The anamorphically-enhanced, 2.35:1 widescreen black and white transfer for Rx Murder looks a bit dark at times, but otherwise it's reasonably sharp, with low grain and good contrast.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English split mono audio track is just okay, with low hiss. No subtitles or closed-captions.

The Extras:
An original trailer for Rx Murder is included...and boy does that movie look a lot more fun than what actually shows up on screen.

Final Thoughts:
Death by boredom. When Rx Murder arrived at my door, I was primed for a cozy British murder mystery in delicious black and white widescreen. Unfortunately, all the elements that would have delivered on those expectations are muted or ignored here in favor of endless, flat dialogue scenes, stale set-ups...and a depressingly uninteresting mystery. Rx Murder is a rental only for British murder mystery completists--and even you're going to be disappointed.

Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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