Murderous! (1936) Picture

EDITED August 2015 to bring it in line with the rest of the "Little Studio" text.


As mentioned, after his early success in the lower level of Spyglass movies, Edinburgh was promoted to the studio's A-List films. Spyglass being a smaller studio, it's A-List was more in line with the B-list at Paramount or RKO or Republic. Nonetheless, these films had decent budgets and strong, generally well known casts. After solid work in support in several films in 1934 and 1935, Edinburgh landed the lead in Spyglass' showpieces for 1936, pulp thrillers "Murderous" and "Murder After Midnight", also somehow managing to nab an above-the-art-title credit on the posters and other publicity materials. Murderous was the first to be released. (Note: Edinburgh is quite blunt in his memoirs, stating "I earned top billing in 'Murderous' from my acting and drawing power. I screwed my way into the over-the-title bit, though. I don't think many people figured it out at the time; they just knew I was the producer's favorite.")

Before the film began production, there was a brief discussion about coloring Edinburgh's red hair to something darker. Eventually, it was decided to leave his hair alone. His hair tended to read either dark brown or black in the black-and-white film stocks in use at the time, and the red hair produced a distinctive look on the various posters and color promotional materials.

Hollywood being surprisingly risk-averse even then, Murderous was essentially an air on Ecstatic. Edinburgh played a man up from the working class, as before. Unlike Ecstatic, this character had never lost touch with his working class roots, and had remained best friends since childhood with the same man, played by Nathan Alexios. Another childhood friend, played by Alesia Gia, had moved away for a time, but then had come back to the city a changed person, aiming for a better life by whatever means necessary. (It is implied by the script, but never stated outright, that Gia's character is a "loose woman".) Edinburgh having achieved this life, she set her cap for him, although she'd been Alexios' girlfriend before leaving town and for a brief time after returning. This understandably drove a wedge between the men. The situation escalates until both men are (rather improbably) looking for ways to kill each other before coming to the realization that it's not worth the risk.

Since this was a Hays Code era film, characters had to be redeemed or be shown to suffer for their lack of redemption. Unusually, Gia's character remained unrepentant to the end, although she did endure the loss of love, friendship and respect from Edinburgh and Nathan, as well as almost everyone else she knew. Both men eventually repudiate her and somehow come back from the brink of mutual homicide to repair their friendship, while she moves on to bigger and better fish.

The film very nearly didn't receive its code certificate. The Hays office was concerned that Gia didn't suffer more harshly for her mercenary ways, but somehow, Spyglass managed to persuade them that being repudiated by her entire neighborhood, including her parents, was sufficient. This was not a tactic that would work again.

The film was a very solid commercial and critical success for Spyglass. The studio even tried to put forward all three principal actors in the acting categories for the Academy Awards, as well as the writer/director and the film itself. Unfortunately, the studio didn't have a big enough promotions budget to really make any sort of splash in the awards scene, as well as being perceived as a second-rank studio not worthy of those awards, and so the campaigns failed miserably. There was also a slight distaste for the nepotism involved, as DeWitt Kirnberg was, in fact, the nom de screenplay plume for Adelina Kirnberg, the wife of Michael Kirnberg, head of Spyglass. This was the first and last time that pre-resurrection era Spyglass would make anything like a serious effort to achieve that sort of recognition for its product.

Recently, several extraordinarily well-preserved posters were discovered in the upper levels of a theater in Phoenix that was about to be torn down. That they were kept away from light and sun, combined with the dry conditions, preserved most of them in near-mint condition. Several posters date from pre-code or just post-Hays-Code days, and a poster for Murderous was one found in that group. Very little work was required to restore it to near-original quality.


-- I. Noah Lott, professor of current history, comparative and modern mythology and modern media studies, Serenity Falls University, Hollywood Roars: scandals of the early days of film.


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