Lilyan Tashman is distressed by the death of her husband's rich aunt. Image:

Lilyan Tashman manages to squeeze out a tear after the murder of her husband’s rich aunt. Image:

When it comes to movies, we like our campy-ness well done.

So imagine our delight when we discovered a new-to-us performance by Lilyan Tashman in the 1931 mystery thriller Murder by the Clock.

Ms Tashman was unknown to us personally until we read about her life and career at the fab classic movie blog, Shadows and Satin. She certainly led an unusual life; you can read the article here. (Say! If you’re not a regular reader of Shadows and Satin, you should click the “Follow” button whilst there.)

Murder by the Clock is one of those scenarios where rich people are in danger of being killed by greedy poor relatives who want their money. Likewise, the poorer relations are also in danger because the greedy rich folk want to protect said money. There’s lots of arguing and skulking and almost-murdering in this flick, not to mention actual murdering. It’s a bit of a bloodbath when you think about it.

Murder by the Clock is a good story, even if some of the plot developments are a little too convenient. You also need to forgive the some of the stilted, awkward dialogue and actions. (1931 is still pretty early for talkies, after all.) But the camerawork is innovative and has a modern feel; the atmosphere is drenched in a consistent moodiness. Even though some scenes are unintentionally hilarious, we suspect it would be a fascinating film-viewing experience on the big screen.

The best part of the film, by far, is Ms Tashman’s performance as the wife of a jelly-kneed man (Walter McGrail) who stands to inherit a lot of dough from his cranky rich aunt (Blanche Friderici). However, the annoying part about inheriting a fortune is all the waiting around until someone dies, and Ms Tashman’s character is impatient. “Do you think I’m going to sit around and watch my youth disappear?” she  snaps. She asks her husband to think about all the money she – er, we mean he – would get if the aunt were to die suddenly.

To while away the hours, Ms Tashman has acquired a boyfriend (Lester Vail). To this poor slob she insinuates that if the aunt died, and then the husband died, the two could finally marry and live a life of ease.

She also suggests the husband-murdering plan to her husband’s mentally-challenged cousin (Irving Pichel). So if one fellow doesn’t succeed in getting the husband, the other surely will.

She does all this while strutting around in stunning designer clothes and thumbing her nose at police. Plus, she gives a terrific stink eye. Your blood would run cold if someone gave you the Tashman Stink Eye in real life.

The thing about Ms Tashman is this: it’s as though she’s in a different movie than everyone else. Her campy villainess is almost like a wink to us in the audience. While most of the other actors are all serious and dramatic, Ms Tashman practically screams at us, Get a load of what I’m gonna do next. We love her for it. This kind of character takes an actress who is unafraid to grab the scene, throw it on her shoulder and carry it – in high heels no less.

If you’re in the mood to see an early talkie, especially one with impressive Camp Factor, we recommend Murder by the Clock. It’s worth seeing just for Lilyan Tashman alone.

Murder by the Clock: starring William Boyd, Lilyan Tashman, Irving Pichel. Directed by Edward Sloman. Screen Adaptation by Henry Myers. Paramount Publix Corp., B&W, 1931, 74 mins. 

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

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