Today’s topic is Distractions.
Do you have any distractions in life? We do; we’re shamelessly distracted by anything Bright and Shiny.
Once upon a time, though, before the onslaught of mobile devices, television was a big distraction for many folks. And it’s still a hugely profitable business. According to Statista.com, worldwide television revenue was approximately $243 billion US in 2019.1
There was always the potential to make a lot of moola in the TV biz. Look at the mystery/thriller Murder by Television (1935 – 1935!), starring Bela Lugosi as man trying to coerce a stubborn inventor into selling a fantastic new technology: The ability to broadcast to the Entire Country without relay stations!
Lugosi is secretly hired by Continental Tele-Vising to persuade his daytime boss (Charles Hill Mailes) to sell the broadcasting technology. Mailes is also being courted by CMP Television Corporation, but he’s not anxious to sell to anybody, “not even for five million dollars!”
Lugosi and his CMP competitor (George Meeker) must outmaneuver each other to secure Mailes’s technology. Although Lugosi works for Mailes in a Day Job, Meeker is dating Mailes’s daughter (June Collyer), so it’s hard to say who has more influence with the reluctant inventor.
However, the technology is far more lucrative than Mailes realizes, and it soon becomes evident his life is in Danger.
During a live broadcast, Mailes collapses, which is initially dismissed as fainting “from over excitement.” Alas, Mailes is dead, and both Lugosi and Meeker become Prime Suspects.
Murder by Television is a movie of distractions. There’s the main Distraction, television, along with the usual distractions of a murder mystery. Clues that seem important turn out to be Red Herrings, and seemingly innocuous actions taken by characters are later seen to be Significant.
Other distractions include: Collyer’s attraction to Lugosi; Hattie McDaniel (who has cringing and outdated-stereotypical lines, but is so good you miss her when she’s not on screen); and a man who keeps sneaking into the inventor’s house, saying, “I have Business here!”
The film shows us how easy it is to be distracted by what we think we see. Scenes from earlier in the film are later re-enacted, but from the viewpoint of characters who were previously out of view. This shows us we don’t know as much as we like to believe.
The whole thing is, however, is a Mess.
The budget, according to IMDb was $35,0002 and looks it. Plus, because the movie has fallen into Public Domain Purgatory, available copies are poor quality.
It also seems like some scenes have been deleted, because, frankly, the movie makes little sense. There are some weird leaps in the storyline due to Missing Info that would help an audience member Keep Up.
Not that it matters, because – Spoiler! – the Big Clue is in the title of the film.
Television was not an everyday household item in 1935 North America. Although the idea of television began in the 1800s, apparently, it wasn’t until 1927 that the first televised demonstration aired in London.3
The first television sets made for home use were sold in the United States in 1939. History.com says by the mid-1940s, the US had 23 television stations, and there were 1 million TV sets in American homes by 1949.4
For all its flaws, Murder by Television places us in an era when society was on the cusp of a world-changing medium. The film, curiously, says television would be beneficial to government and policing agencies by suggesting it could be used for surveillance.
Ultimately, we cannot, in Good Conscience, recommend this movie, unless you are a Bela Lugosi completist, or you have an interest in television history. The cast is excellent, but the story is too jumbled.
We recommend another form of distraction instead.
This post is part of The Distraction Blogathon, hosted by Taking Up Room.
1Statista. (Retrieved November 6, 2021.) Global Traditional TV Industry Revenue, by Julia Stoll.
2IMDb. (Retrieved November 8, 2021.) Murder by Television (1935).
3History.com. (Retrieved November 8, 2021.) Who Invented Television? by Sarah Pruitt.
Murder by Television: starring Bela Lugosi, June Collyer, Huntley Gordon. Directed by Clifford Sanforth. Written by Joseph O’Donnell. Cameo Pictures, 1935, B&W, 53 mins.