Reginald Denham (director)
Network on Air (studio)
75 min (length)
05 October 2020 (released)
A real curate's egg, this 1934 mystery can be seen as quite a fascinating ‘historical document’ for those who are interested in vintage broadcasting procedures – with most scenes filmed at the BBC’s then newly constructed London headquarters.
Val Gielgud, who plays a leading role, was of course the slightly elder brother of highly respected Shakespearian actor, Sir John Gielgud. Val was at the time the 'bigwig' at the Beeb what with his impressive Oxford College background. Political correctness aside, things do not change.
Val Gielgud was also a novelist and this piece (and it does positively wreak with age) is based on one of his pieces written in collaboration with his long time writing partner Eric Maschwitz (who used the pseudonym Holt Marvell). Looking at this film adaptation it would be easy and rather obvious to say it must have worked better as a crime novel. But in fairness we have to bear in mind just how long ago it was made. Things, in a number of respects, were different back then - at least on a superficial level... Oh, those 'pukka' English accents! In contrast, ‘tiny’ dogs-body Joseph Higgins (an uncredited Ivor Barnard, a Shakespearian actor of some note) does naturally speak with a working class accent while female lead Mary Newland (director Reginald Denham's then real life wife) speaks in those irritating strangulated tones still perpetuated by some aristo's to this day.
Inside the Broadcasting House in question (the same building still stands today in Portland Place albeit with a new modern building next door) a murder mystery is being rehearsed and later to be aired. When the cast members are introduced we are informed that the murder victim will be played by Sydney Parsons (Donald Wolfit). An absurd and premature give-away - they may as well have announced the name of the murderer there and then! Parsons is continually incurring the wrath of producer Julian Caird (Val Gielgud) because his guttural choking sounds when he is being strangled are simply not convincing enough. However, when the play is broadcast live, Parsons delivers a brilliant performance… this is because he is actually strangled for real! We see a pair of gloved hands come up from behind and well… we have a real ‘whodunnit’ on our hands. For some strange reason (which isn’t obvious) Parsons wasn’t reading in the same room as the other actors but was in a room on his own - which of course provided the perfect opportunity for the murderer.
It appears that very few of the other actors liked Parsons for reasons that will later be revealed and most of them had good motives. For starters, Parsons was a blackmailing cad! Investigating Detective Inspector Gregory (Ian Hunter) is trying to establish whether bickering couple Leopold and Joan Dryden (Austin Trevor and Mary Newland respectively) or dubious Rodney Fleming (Henry Kendall, a top review star from the 1930s) may have had more reasons for murdering Parsons than the others… See if you can work out who did it.
The main interest here (as previously mentioned) is a fascinating glimpse into the early days of radio broadcasting. In one instance we even get a song from Broadway star Elisabeth Welch (who appeared in her last film role as ‘The Goddess’ in Derek Jarman’s THE TEMPEST) and British singer/actress Eve Becke. Most of the other names mean little now. It is rather ironic that Parsons (played by the great stage actor/manager Donald Wolfit) here plays a rather talentless actor. One then for the specialists!
DEATH AT BROADCASTING HOUSE is presented on Blu-ray as a brand-new HD re-master from original film elements in its original aspect ratio. Special Bonus offers ‘Image Gallery’ as its only feature.