Deco Vespiary

DEATH AT BROADCASTING HOUSE (1934) — viewed on Talking Pictures TV — is in many ways a cut above the average British picture of its time, but I can never seem to focus on it. It’s set in BBC Radio’s magnificent art deco hub, a gorgeous building. That starts things off with plenty of interest. There’s a strangulation murder broadcast live to the nation (nobody suspects until afterwards, since the victim was playing the role of a man who gets strangled). Snuff radio! And director Reginald Denham delivers not only plenty of beautiful shots of sharp-suited men looking pensive in white rooms, but some positively experimental jump-cut treatment of the musical numbers (yes! musical numbers!). I really want to try more of his films but few are available. Maybe Talking Pictures TV will transmit a few more.

My problem with the film is that all the male characters are the same — acidulated queens spitting venom at one another.  This may be an accurate portrayal of the BBC at the time — it probably is — but after the initial amusement value, a certain monotony sets in. One or two such characters could certainly enliven a murder mystery with their barbed quips, but this is too much of a good thing. When Ian Hunter shows up as the man from the Yard, he’s just the same, another sarcastic prig. There would have been good mileage in having him a comparative innocent, horrified at the nest of media vipers he’s stumbled into.

Among the sniping bitches are Henry Kendall (RICH AND STRANGE), a nubile Donald Wolfit, and Jack Hawkins, who doesn’t look quite as alarming here as he did in 1932’s THE LODGER, but still hasn’t grown into that toby jug head, which looks peculiar atop a spindly young body.

The script is by Val Gielgud — yes, brother of the more famous John — who also appears, looking diabolical and debonair in a goatee that positions him perfectly as the alternate universe evil twin of dear, dear Johnny. His scriptwork is a little lacking in variety but he’s such a surprising presence I wish there was more of him to see. I shall have to make an appointment with MEN ARE NOT GODS, his only other talkie, which is the original of Cukor’s A DOUBLE LIFE. Sounds kind of great.

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5 Responses to “Deco Vespiary”

  1. Daniel Reifferscheid Says:

    I saw “Men Are Not Gods” at the BFI some time ago and remember it being a delight.

  2. Excellent. I’m obtaining a copy.

  3. chris schneider Says:

    Saw MEN ARE NOT GODS, a portion of it, on tv aeons ago, and have an affectionate memory of Miriam Hopkins calling out “CHOC-lates!” (She was mocking a vendor.)

  4. Cool. I have it, just need to schedule a viewing. Easier now we’ve finished Mindhunter (which I’m not really sure was ten hours well spent).

  5. Studetroit Says:

    “A nubile Donald Wolfit”?! The mind reels.

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