As we mentioned in the last post, there was once a trend to film movies multiple times in different languages. One of the more interesting instances, as noted previously, is Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder! That film was made simultaneously with a German version, Mary, on the same sets with different actors. This instance is notable not just because both films are readily available, but because the German version runs significantly shorter than the English one. So what are the big differences that got lost in translation? We will get into those, but first, a review of Murder!
Despite the confines that early talkie sometimes brings, Murder! is filled with stark and striking images like the one above. In a rare instance for Hitchcock, the film is something of a straight up mystery. A woman is sentenced to death for a murder it seems obvious she committed, but one juror comes to believe he may have been wrong. But if she didn’t do it, can he prove it?
Despite this serious subject matter, hitchcock peppers the film with even more humor than usual. A backwards couple who are crucial to the case are constantly running around, trying and failing to act more regal than they really are. Several other minor characters play comedic roles in their brief appearances, such as a meek juror who can offer no opinion of his own. He even uses the camera as the tool behind a gag involving two women constantly walking between rooms.
It all culminates with not one but two suspenseful climax scenes. In classic Hitchcock fashion, the intensity is ratcheted up, leading to a scene that the makers of The Jinx could have very well been inspired by (but probably not). And the ending is a technical suspenseful achievement that you won’t soon forget.
Murder! is both classic Hitchcock and at times unique to him. It’s certainly one of his better British films.
As for the German version . . .
Watching Mary is a bit of a strange experience. At times, it is no more than a shot for shot match of the English. Take, for example, two of the more interesting shots in the film. This view of the suspect in prison:
And her seated at a table later:
And yet, the stark shadow of noose seen above is nowhere to be found. That’s far from the only thing missing. Most often, this version is truncated through eliminating comedic elements. The meek juror is eliminated, along with an extended scene involving the bumbling couple. Other times, the same scene is present, but it’s almost rushed through. The changing rooms gag with the camera is there, but only barely. Someone who struggles to get dressed in the English version has no problems in the German one.
But the strangest omission is actual clues to solving the murder. One major breakthrough in the case, ultimately clueing into the solution, just isn’t present at all. It might make the mystery unsolvable for new viewers, such a strange thing to leave out. Hitchcock does still leave the fantastic climax mostly intact, though.
Mary is worth watching only for completists. While a curiosity to see, it only really presents an incomplete version of a better film. As the omitted scenes kept piling up, it just gave the impression that this was a rushed through version made out of obligation. Maybe it was. What we do know for sure, though, is that Mary serves as proof that shooting films multiple times in different languages just wasn’t good practice.