How will I like this 1952 thriller I’ve been challenged to watch and review?
Welcome to a new regular feature linking Speakeasy and Mike’s Take on the Movies. The concept is simple and one that all voracious movie fans and bloggers do: make suggestions. For us it’s extra easy to see the recommended movie right away, no matter how rare, since we know each other in person and constantly trade from our vast collections. So last week of every month tune in as we reveal each others’ picks and opinions (hopefully good), in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movie Challenge.
First up Mike chose for me a 1952 movie I’d never heard of, Murder on Monday, aka Home at Seven (its original UK title), the only film that the wonderful actor Ralph Richardson ever directed, co-starring the always great Jack Hawkins and Margaret Leighton, a noted actress who was married to Lawrence Harvey and Michael Wilding. My initial thought was that I was about to watch a light comedy, as Richardson saunters back home after a day of work at the bank, checks out the flowers in front of his picture perfect, quaint house, all to music that’s ever so jaunty. Then he walks in the door to distraught wife Leighton, who asks where he’s been for the last day and night. Quickly the movie takes a dark, frightening turn, as Richardson tries to understand the question and slowly works through his disbelief, to accept the truth that, since leaving for work Monday morning, he hasn’t been back until this Tuesday evening and has no idea where he’s been. Things get even worse when neighbour and local social club organizer (Michael Shepley) tells Richardson the club’s been robbed and one of the other members, who claims he saw Richardson there that night, is found murdered. Missing money, missing day, missing alibi, one body, one confused man in one pretty deeply incriminating situation.
Richardson plays just about the nicest, sweetest, most caring, mild mannered man you’re likely to see, and he’s loved and trusted by a great wife, so him being a killer just doesn’t fit. If you’re the upright law abiding sort who never does anything wrong but gets nervous going through customs or spotting a police car in your rear-view mirror, you will completely relate to how utterly this decent couple’s life is shattered by a lost day and no answers. A pet peeve of mine in plots is when a friend or family member who should know you better, immediately jumps to the worst conclusions about you on the flimsiest of evidence. That’s why in this film I loved that Richardson, in all this trouble, and even when he most doubts himself, still has the great comfort of an understanding level headed doctor (Hawkins) and devoted wife who stand by him and never waver from seeking a reasonable explanation.
A twist and greater doubt comes when Richardson admits to Hawkins that he could easily have murdered that man because he hated his guts, loathed his opportunism, his evil eyes, his big fat body, his pale flabby face and creepy stare which always seemed repulsive and fated to ruin his life. Which might make Richardson the killer and/or the greatest judge of character ever. Meanwhile Hawkins follows his hunch that Richardson’s wartime trauma has something to do with this mystery. Under pressure Richardson does some dumb but still understandable things, such as telling the police he was with a friend, and then giving the first name that comes to mind, rather than trying to explain to skeptics that oops, he just lost a day somewhere. Turns out that oops, that very friend is out of town, so the lie snowballs.
There’s a great moment where Hawkins plays devil’s advocate with the persistent neighbour Shepley by taking apart his “well I was at the cinema” alibi, thus proving how easily circumstantial evidence works. Once Richardson sees no way out he begins, in some heartbreaking scenes, to valiantly plan for his wife’s future without him (though he’ll miss her toast, she always knew how to make the best toast). And then a mysterious woman appears, wanting to speak to Leighton, a woman who’s tracked Richardson down from another neighbourhood’s gossip, a place where Richardson’s been going for years every day after work, unbeknownst to his wife… and there I stop. Excellent, fascinating movie, subtle, realistic, disturbing and suspenseful.
Mike scores 1/1 for a good pick; now go see what I picked for him