Friday, September 20, 2013

MOVIE OF THE DAY: "APOLOGY FOR MURDER" (1945)

Maybe it's just my dumb luck, but I never met a woman who convinced me to murder her husband. It seemed to be all the rage in '40s movies, though, to the point where the studios were flirting with copyright infringement. 

Picture the dingy office of Sigmund Nuefeld, the president of PRC Pictures. Surrounded by clouds of cigar smoke, Nuefeld is sitting across the desk from his brother, director Sam Newfield. (If you don't want to be accused of nepotism, make the name change just a little less obvious, bub.) They're discussing the studio's next round of releases. 

SIGMUND: I was thinking -- remember Double Indemnity?

SAM: What, with Stanwyck and whatshisname, Freddie Murray? 

SIGMUND: Fred MacMurray. Yeah. It made a mint. Why don't we just do another version?

SAM: A remake? Paramount owns the property.


"Hey, didn't MacMurray and
Stanwyck meet on the stairs, too?"



SIGMUND: No, not a remake. Just -- the same, only different. Dame puts the moves on some sap, gives him a song and dance about her mean rich husband. Convinces the sap to knock him off so they can collect the shekels and run away. Only instead of an insurance agent, the guy's a reporter. And the Edward G. Robinson part, the insurance investigator who smells a rat? We make him the newspaper editor who smells a rat. 

SAM: Sig, you're a genius. Say, you've got Hugh Beaumont and Ann Savage under contract. Squint your eyes and they look like Murray and Stanwyck.

SIGMUND: MacMurray. Think you could finish it by Friday?

SAM: Gimme an extra C-note and you'll have gift-wrapped on Thursday.

SIGMUND: Whaddaya trying to do, break the budget?

One of the most shameless unofficial remakes ever made, Apology for Murder entertains whether you've seen Double Indemnity or not. In fact, it may be even more entertaining if you have, just to marvel at how they got away with it by making the smallest of changes.

Don't do it, Hugh! She isn't worth it!
Like instead of the sap cracking the husband on the skull before making it look like he fell off a train, the sap in Apology for Murder cracks him on the skull before making it look like he drove off a cliff. Oh, and the sap is typing his confession when his boss walks in on him at the office in the middle of the night rather than speaking it into a Dictaphone when his boss walks in on him at the office in the middle of the night. Things like that kept the Paramount lawyers away from the door.


I knew there was a reason why I once referred to Hugh Beaumont as the Poverty Row Fred MacMurray. Not only is there a physical similarity, they sound pretty near the same as well. He even keeps calling Ann Savage "baby" the way MacMurray does Stanwyck. They probably could've traded their roles in Leave it to Beaver and My Three Sons without anyone noticing the difference.

The grief-stricken widow poses for a
shutterbug.
Come to think of it, that leads to another similarity --  the initial shock of seeing a baby-boomer icon of family sitcom fun as a killer. But a key difference is that MacMurray, in Double Indemnity, is a sleazeball right from the get-go, more than happy to start an affair with a married woman, even if it means sending the husband on a one-way trip to the morgue. Beaumont, on the other hand, as affable newspaper reporter Kenny Blake, is led to believe that Toni Kirkland (Ann Savage) is single until their affair gets red hot. Kenny looks for an out, but once Toni flashes those baby-blues, pickers her lips and gives him the ol' song-and-dance about her terrible husband, they start brainstorming their matricide machinations. 

It's hard for a reporter to maintain his
objectivity when he's the real killer.
Once hubby is over the cliff, things start to go awry. Kenny's editor assigns him to cover the husband's death, which, despite having the aura of an accident, has more than a whiff of murder. Something of a drinker already, Kenny really becomes friendly with Jim Beam when the boys from Homicide pin Harvey's death on a business associate, Craig Jordan. While Toni is delighted that Craig is going to take the rap all the way to the gas house, Kenny is conscience-stricken. Adding insult to psychological injury, his editor discovers that Toni's having an affair with her lawyer, Allen Webb. "Anyone who'd go for a phony like her," the editor confidently tells Kenny, "can't be very bright." Ouch! (In one of those only-I-would-notice things, Kenny's editor is named Ward, which was Hugh Beaumont's character on Leave it to Beaver. To those who say there are no coincidences, I say... Eh.)

A man can take just so much from a dame, so when Kenny decides to pay Toni a visit in order to catch her with Webb, guns are drawn. ("You raise murder to a high degree of efficiency," Kenny tells her almost admiringly.) In short order, all three are plugged, with Kenny living long enough to drive back to work in order to write his confession. Frankly, it was no more convincing when MacMurray did it in Double Indemnity.

The Brangelina of Poverty Row. 
Where Apology for Murder surpasses Double Indemnity is the stars' sexual heat. Lacking Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler's brilliant dialogue, Beaumont and Savage have to rely strictly on their own personal style, and it's more than enough. Fitting of their Hollywood status, neither resemble A-level movie stars; nor do the slightly grungy sets scream glamor. But as many a B-movie has proven, sexual steam rises higher when it mirrors real life.


Ann in a not-so savage moment.
Much of that heat is freely emitted by Ann Savage, the greatest of the Poverty Row bad girls. Just watch her here when she first realizes that Beaumont's the Class A-1 pigeon she's been waiting for. No words are spoken -- just the look in her eyes and a razor-thin, humorless smile telegraph what she has in mind. I've always had a thing for film noir dolls, the kind you don't know whether to kiss or kill. And Beaumont ultimately does both, muttering, "You're not to fit to live" as he pulls the trigger after she's shot him. Yet even as life drips from him, he lovingly whispers to her corpse, "Wait for me, baby. I won't be long." Despite being played for the king of fools, he still can't get over her. And apparently, neither could movie director Guy Maddin, having cast Savage in the lead of his black & white noirish release, My Winnipeg in 2007, a year before her death at 87. What a doll. 

PRC director Edgar G. Ulmer supposedly claimed that the studio's original title for Apology for Murder was Single Indemnity, which is either a good joke or a shamelessness unmatched even by Hollywood standards. But as film historian Michael Price pointed out, before the TV-era there was usually no way you could ever see your favorite movie again once it left town. These low-budget copycat releases helped you re-live the experience. (Today's studios, however, have no excuse.) Taken strictly on its own terms, Apology for Murder is a fine hour's entertainment.  While the dialogue isn't as hard-bitten as Double Indemnity's, it's certainly well chewed by its stars. Jack Newfield's direction makes sure the pace never flags. Best of all, Hugh Beaumont and Ann Savage are no less mesmerizing than their A-list counterparts. Apology for Murder has nothing to apologize for.

                                                    ****************************
To read about another Hugh Beaumont shocker, Money Madness, click here.

I've often mentioned the uber-film noir Detour, which features Ann Savage's greatest performance -- and which recently earned her a place in Time magazine's Top 10 movie villains. An exceptionally good print of Detour can be seen for free here on YouTube -- the best 67 minutes ever put on celluloid.

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