Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1930, Murder! follows Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall). He's a famous actor who served on the jury in the trial of an actress named Diana Baring (Norah Baring) who was found guilty of murdering another actress who worked in her touring company after she's found near the body shortly after the deed has been done. Upon her conviction she is sentenced to death, and this causes Menier to rethink his decision. When he starts to think that maybe she's not guilty beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt, he decides to take it upon himself to find out who the real murderer was so that he can clear her name and get her off of death row. Menier's guilt is compounded by the fact that he had previously rejected her for a part and instead recommended that she join the very touring company that got her into trouble in the first place so that she might gain some much-needed experience.
Menier enlists the aid of Ted and Doucie Markham (played by Edward Chapman and Phyllis Konstam), the theater's manager and his wife, and the three of them head to the small town where the killing took place so that they can hopefully uncover some evidence and solve the case. After doing some digging they find out that a strange police officer was seen around the scene of the crime but they're not sure if it was a real cop or an actor with a costume on. A cigarette case provides a second clue and Menier decides to head to Baring's cell and try to get some information from her. She's unusually reluctant to help the man who is trying to save her life, and Menier soon comes to the conclusion that she's hiding something. She does, however, accidentally let Menier know that the cigarette case belongs to, and Menier starts to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
While Murder! is an important film from a historical perspective, it's also pretty slow. This was Hitchcock's third film to be made with sound and as such, the director was still experimenting with the technology and not all of these experiments work. That said, there are some really interesting moments in this movie, particularly in relation to Hitchcock's use of the theater as the location for his murder. The film, like most of his pictures, it very nicely shot and also quite well lit, and the performances are decent if a bit unremarkable. Marhsall and Baring are both good enough, but quite stand out the way that you might expect them to. Supporting work from Chapman and Konstam is also solid, just not earth shattering.
It's also interesting how Hitchcock's film allows the Menier character to ponder the case in his head, which we hear via narration, while he's shaving. It should additionally be pointed out that this film contains a common Hitchcockian plot in that it revolves around someone trying to prove the innocence of a person wrongly convicted for murder. When the real killer is finally revealed, it's done with a bit of flair and the motives given for the murder are reasonably interesting. In the end, Murder! is absolutely worth seeing, particularly for devoted Hitchcock fans, but more for its innovations than for its actual story. That said, despite some slow bits it isn't as plodding it is often accused of being and the final scene in the circus is quite interesting and genuinely impressive.
Murder! is presented on a 50GB disc with the feature taking up just over 20GBs of space. Taken from the BFI's 2012 restoration, the AVC encoded 1.37.1 fullframe 1080p presentation looks quite good given the film's age and history. Some print damage does show up throughout the presentation but it's a cleaner picture than you might expect. Detail definitely surpasses previous DVD incarnations of the film, not just in long shots but close up shots as well. A few minor compression artifacts can be spotted if you're really looking for them but this isn't normally a problem. Contrast on the black and white picture is generally pretty strong, and there's a fair bit of appreciable depth here as well.
The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, which comes with optional English subtitles, is also quite good. While this is limited in range by the age of the elements, dialogue stays clean and the sound effects used in the film are punch enough without sounding too loud in the mix. The score has pretty good range and while a bit of minor hiss can be heard in a few spots, it's just that… minor.
Extras start off with an audio commentary by Film Critic Nick Pinkerton. In this track he offers plenty of background information on the picture, discussing the relationship between Clemence Dance and Helen Simpson, and the work that they did on the story, how Hitchcock came to direct the film, the cast members, the state of the industry as it was transitioning from silent films to sound films around this time, Hitchcock's blending of impressive visuals with the new sound technology being used and quite a bit more. Lots of historical insight here to go along with some interesting analysis of the film.
Also found on the disc is Hitchcock/Truffaut: Icon Interviews Icon, a fourteen-minute audio recording of a conversation between the two filmmakers discussing the merits, or in some cases the lack thereof, of ‘whodunnit' movies. It's an interesting talk well worth listening to.
Also completely worth checking out is the inclusion of Mary, the 1931 German version of Murder! that also directed by Hitchcock. Shot on the same set during the same shoot but with German speaking cast members, it's an interesting variation on the story absolutely worth checking out for the Hitchcock completist. Even if it is a remake, it's interesting to see just how closely this follows the English version and to note the differences in the performances. This is upscaled from an analogue source, so keep your expectations in check in regards to picture quality, but it does come with DTS-HD 2.0 Mono audio in German with optional English subtitles.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are a five-minute introduction to the film from Noël Simsolo, a ten-minute alternate ending, a trailer for the feature, bonus trailers for a few other Kino Lorber Hitchcock properties (Blackmail, The Paradine Case, Under Capricorn and Lifeboat), menus and chapter selection.
Murder! isn't Hitchcock's best work but it is a very interesting stepping stone of sorts, demonstrating rather well where he was as a filmmaker in terms of making the transition into the new ‘talkies' era while still embracing the style he employed in his earlier silent films. Kino Lorber has done a fine job bringing this to Blu-ray in a nice presentation and with some interesting extra features as well. Recommended.