British Mystery/Noir

Dear Murderer

Have you been sleeping with my wife, my dear chap?

Yes old man I’m afraid I have been. Cigarette?

Thanks awfully. You realize old bean that I’ll have to murder you of course.

I’d think very little of you if you didn’t. Care for some Scotch?

I have a weakness for Brit movie dialogue that is completely savage in message while being unctuous in delivery. Such lines are the most delicious aspect of Ray Milland’s murderous character in Dial M for Murder (recommended here), and they are also a virtue of the equally suave-and-nasty Dear Murderer.

Made by the Box family in 1947 during the brief life of Gainsborough Studios in South London, the film stars the smooth Eric Portman as a man who discovers that his flash, icy wife has been stepping out on him while he has been in America. In the movie’s best scene, he visits the man whom he has discovered is her lover (Dennis Price), and after some perfectly mannered exchange of pleasantries, announces that he is going to murder him. Things do not go quite to plan however, not least because wifey hasn’t been limiting herself to one beau. It only gets colder and nastier from there, with plot twists aplenty and entertainment value to spare.

Portman and Price’s urbane, scary face-off is brilliantly done, and it is a shame that it wasn’t the first scene, which would have started the film off with a bang (The first scene instead is some unneeded background exposition to explain how the infidelity was discovered..I so dislike it when filmmakers don’t just tell the story from the get go). An irony of the scene for modern audiences is that the actors playing the two men battling over their shared love of a woman were both gay. It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall afterwards to hear the actors discuss between themselves how they played the scene and how they felt about it.

Watch Dear Murderer online - BFI Player

As for the woman herself, Greta Gynt is a revelation as the twisted, narcissistic wayward wife. Like Lizabeth Scott in No Time for Tears (passionately praised here) Gynt plays a far more scary character than the murderous men around her. The delight on her face when she realizes that desire for her has led one man to murder another is chilling. Few Americans have heard of Gynt because despite significant success in British films in the 1930s and 1940s, she never caught hold in Hollywood. After you have seen this film, you will want to put in the effort to find more of her movies.

Even as film noirs go, this one is pretty dark. There are only two morally decent characters, neither of whom is very interesting. You may find yourself rooting for some bad people at least some of the time, even if by the end you are glad they get what they had coming to them.