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  Death at Broadcasting House Murder On The Air
Year: 1934
Director: Reginald Denham
Stars: Ian Hunter, Austin Trevor, Lilian Oldland, Henry Kendall, Val Gielgud, Peter Haddon, Betty Ann Davies, Jack Hawkins, Donald Wolfit, Robert Rendel, Gordon McLeod, Hannen Swaffer, Vernon Bartlett, Eric Dunstan, Gillie Potter, Elisabeth Welch
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The BBC are transmitting a radio play from Broadcasting House tonight, as almost every night, but the atmosphere in the rehearsal room is somewhat grumpy and ill-tempered, as the cast of actors and behind the scenes crew alike have grievances, quite often with one another. The play is a murder mystery, and the actor playing the victim (Donald Wolfit) is having trouble getting his death scene quite correct, with the director (Val Gielgud) taking him to task over it; the actor is essaying his role alone in a studio separate from the rest of his fellow cast members, all the better to produce the project. But as the evening approaches, little does anybody know that someone is planning to make this performance far too authentic...

Any time someone grumbles about the state of the BBC, direct them to this little item from the mid-nineteen-thirties and ask them if this is the sort of entertainment they would prefer to be on the airwaves in the twenty-first century. Not that this film isn't enjoyable, it's actually what used to be referred to as a hoot, and a valuable glimpse into a world of broadcasting gone by which when it isn't looking quaint is somewhat hilarious in its attitudes. That the titular crime is heard by "twenty-five million listeners" is not as much of a scandal as you might expect, we don't hear the public's side of this at all, as the plot unfolds much as many a mystery yarn would whether in the books of Agatha Christie or the quota quickies churned out by British studios.

Of course, there were a number of movies, some cult efforts, set in radio stations, anything from Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Who Done It? to Tim McIntire as Alan Freed in American Hot Wax, though George Lucas' attempt at the genre, Radioland Murders, had more in common with this piece than anything in The Boat That Rocked. Strictly as nostalgia, not that many can recall what it was evoking from first hand experience this far ahead in time, it was highly amusing, with the novelty for audiences of the day to put faces to the voices they would tune into night after night, though pretty much to a man and woman these celebrities have slipped from the popular memory: only singer Elisabeth Welch may be recalled as a successful black entertainer of the era, and she trills a song here too.

Among the cast of suspects and coppers, Jack Hawkins retains some cachet among fans of vintage British movies thanks to a distinguished career and general respect for a good man, and the lead, Ian Hunter, was in the Errol Flynn classic The Adventures of Robin Hood, thus guaranteeing some will recognise him today. Wolfit too, was a very famous barnstormer on the stage, though his screen career was not as lauded, and Gielgud, as the name suggests, was the brother of the far more famous actor Sir John Gielgud (there is a strong resemblance he tries to conceal under a goatee). They are all fraightfully posh, apart from the bloke playing the caretaker, and Peter Haddon was on hand for comic relief as a "silly ass" suspect who nobody would suspect in a million years. Actually, the material that was not supposed to be funny looked a lot more laugh-inducing than his bits of business, and while nobody was going to call it a classic of its type, it does tell you a lot about its specific place and time while entertaining for different reasons than would have been intentional way back in 1934. Also: tap dancing on the radio.

[Network release this on Blu-ray with an image gallery and subtitles as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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