A lawyer tries to get revenge on the woman who jilted him and used him to get away with murder.
So, Jessica Fletcher is having an affair with Perry Mason and that’s not some classic TV fan fiction, it’s the obvious joke that pops into any viewer’s head while watching Please Murder Me (1956) and now it’s out of the way. Angela Lansbury and Raymond Burr are having an affair and he can’t stand to keep it a secret from her husband Dick Foran, because Foran and Burr are best friends. It pains Burr to have to reveal his deception and he tells Foran he knows it may well destroy their friendship, but he foresees a happy future with Lansbury and won’t hide any longer. Foran is stunned, leaves the office like a zombie, and it’s not long before he and Lansbury have an explosive confrontation that results in Lansbury killing Foran in self defense.
Luckily for her, Burr is a renowned attorney with that extra interest in seeing her acquitted. The trial goes their way but then Burr gets a letter Foran mailed before his death. Burr is horrified to read that Foran knew Lansbury was a gold digger and that she has yet another man waiting in the wings, an artist played by Lamont Johnson, who she’s loved since college and with whom she plans to share Foran’s fortune. Feeling like a Stradivarius the way Lansbury’s played him, Burr believes he has nothing left to live for; at the prospect of losing his reputation, betrayed by his one true love and having let down his best buddy, he hatches a plan to make Lansbury pay.
We learn all this within the film’s Double Indemnity-style flashback. Our first view of Burr is his despondent trek through the night to buy a gun and get to his office, where he sits at his desk in the dark and begins making a recording for prosecutor John Dehner. Burr says he will be found murdered and this recording will convict his killer. He then tells the story of the affair, the revelations, the murder, the trial and the aftermath. The murderer will be Lansbury, if Burr has his way. Knowing she can’t be tried twice for Foran’s murder, he’s going to get her to murder him instead, or else he’ll tell Johnson and everyone else all about her crime. The question of whether the scheming Lansbury can weasel her way out of this deal in answered by the time Burr finishes his recording.
This movie came out a year before Burr started Perry Mason, and this role is a good preview of the serious, incisive intelligence that made Perry such an iconic character. Burr has some fun scenes where he meets the artist Johnson, sits for a (really great) portrait, and then hangs out with Lansbury and Johnson just to torture her; he never tells the other man what Lansbury meant and did to him. Lansbury was 6 years away from The Manchurian Candidate but gives us a nice preview of that type of ice cold villainy; she does a fine job seething at Burr when he makes friends with Johnson and delays their wedding cruise by offering tons of money to commission that portrait. Lansbury also gets a juicy last scene in this movie that will stick in your memory. This seems to be the last feature from director Peter Godfrey (The Two Mrs. Carrolls, The Woman in White) before he moved on to TV work, and he does make something watchable out of this pulpy story. Please Murder Me’s gimmick of having the hero essentially commit suicide by cornering a lover/villain into murdering them is really creative, but for me the production value and the pace don’t do much with that concept, which keeps the movie stuck in mediocre, even disappointing territory. These actors are certainly worth watching and do good work, so I wasn’t bored; I just wished for more suspense and excitement, at least as much as that teaser of a title promised me.