blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Benson Murder Case (1930, Frank Tuttle)

The most interesting part of The Benson Murder Case is the Black Tuesday setting. I missed the newspaper dates for the montage about the stock market crash so I’m not sure if they do the Black Tuesday or just a Black Tuesday, but the movie opens with broker Richard Tucker selling off all his clients’ positions. They come to the office and yell at him and threaten him, so we get a parade of the suspects.

There’s gigolo Paul Lukas, who used the money his sugar momma May Beatty sent to cover her stock positions on pearls for Natalie Moorhead, which he then stole from her to give to Tucker as collateral on a forged check. It’s wordy complicated, not useful complicated; they just need to establish motive. Moorhead’s a working girl made good, but she believes Lukas loves her because… it’s unclear. Tucker wants to whisk Moorhead off her feet but she won’t go for him, money or not, because he’s ugly.

Then there’s gambler, rich guy, and apparently indicted but never convicted killer William 'Stage' Boyd, who’s pals with Tucker because they’re both in it to win it. Apparently it’s a bond.

After everyone meets at Tucker’s office to yell at him and get the light bulb about bumping him off, they soon end up at his country house to plead with him for financial mercy and maybe kill him. Mostly it’s just Tucker berating them for being thinly written characters and Boyd being slightly creepy.

Coincidentally and conveniently, Tucker lives next door to the district attorney, E.H. Calvert, who stops by for a chat during the gathering of the potential murderers. Again coincidentally and conveniently, Calvert’s got his pal—playboy amateur sleuth Philo Vance (William Powell)—along with him. So right before the murder there’s a lot of Boyd posturing for Powell.

After the murder, numbskull police sergeant Eugene Pallette shows up for a lot of solid comic relief. The murder happens around twenty-five minutes into the picture, which runs just over an hour, so Pallette’s got a lot to keep moving because the red herring suspicions Calvert’s got are obviously red herrings. He’s ranting about them while Powell just sits calmly and says wait for the last seven or eight minutes then they’ll know everything.

Benson Murder Case is mildly engaging, not much more. Director Tuttle showcases everyone except Powell (and maybe Beatty) and gives Tucker and Boyd the spotlight. They’re both fine. Powell’s charming, Pallette’s funny….

The mystery itself is kind of blah—the biggest reveal happens offscreen; besides Powell, Pallette, and maybe Boyd, the biggest selling point is the short runtime.

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