The Delightfully Evil Lilyan Tashman

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. 



  1. I’ve loved Lilyan since I was a teenager. She is always such a delicious hoot. She definitely deserved her rep as one of the most fabulously stylish women in 1930s Hollywood. Gone way too soon, too, which just adds to her legend.


    • I’m sorry I didn’t learn about her earlier; however, better late than never, right?

      As for her style, she really knew how to dress. In my online research, I never saw her in a bad outfit. Like you said, she deserved her reputation as one of the most stylish women of her time.


      • As a teenager, I read a lot of rather old but wonderful film books. I knew more about silent movie and early talkie stars by the age of 15 than most people ever do, so I had a big jump on things.

        She was so stylish, and in a grand way that just doesn’t exist today. An open budget and access to the best couture designers in 2013 cannot buy a woman what Lilyan had.


  2. I like these types of movies and now you mention it (that’s a tangent alert), it seems to have been more of an actual ‘genre’, those “waiting for your rich relative or in law to die to get the loot” stories. It was more an open part of society when people had shorter lives maybe? anyway Lilyan Tashman was cool and one of those fab people way overlooked now..


  3. I’m not at all familiar with this movie or Ms. Tashman. That photo of her, wearing that smirk(?), sure did capture my attention, though. Your review of her as ” … an actress who is unafraid to grab the scene, throw it on her shoulder and carry it – in high heels no less” is gold. All this and a bloodbath, too? This is one film I’ve got to see. Thanks, Ruth, for bringing this one to my attention.


  4. I loved your comment about the high heels, too! Lilyan Tashman sounds like she would be an interesting actress to watch, and the movie a fun one to see. I haven’t seen too many movies from this decade so would be interested in checking it out. Always great to hear your recommendations and descriptions, Ruth! Thank you.


      • Thanks, Ruth! I wish I’d been able to remember all the accolades that somehow got lost in the shuffle, but I assure you I enjoyed every word of your fascinating post! especially enjoyed what you had to say about her fabulous wardrobe and what a trend-setter she was, and her marriage with Edmund Lowe. Whatever the gossps say, it sounds to me like they were a loving couple in their own modern way — good for them! You did a splendid job on the life and times of Lilyan — BRAVA, dear friend! 😀


  5. Hi, Ruth — Thank you so much for mentioning my article and your kind words about my blog! You are a sweetheart. I loved your article (naturally) — you did a great job capturing Miss Tashman’s appeal in this rather offbeat film!


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