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Film / The Murder Man

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The Murder Man is a 1935 film directed and co-written by Tim Whelan.

Two slimy, corrupt investment brokers, Halford and Mander, are having a falling out. Halford is upset with Mander, who has acquired some government bonds illicitly; this threatens to bring federal law enforcement on them. Halford also takes a desperate phone call from an ex-girlfriend whom he dumped, but not before he stole all her money. The woman, at the end of her rope, jumps off a boat and drowns in the bay.

All this skulduggery gets Halford murdered. Enter Steve Grey (Spencer Tracy), a newspaper reporter whose reporting and writing skills are only equaled by the prodigious amount of alcohol he drinks. Grey basically leads the investigation by himself, uncovering for the police that Halford was shot from a sidewalk shooting gallery, and that Mander was at that shooting gallery, and that Halford had a $200,000 insurance policy payable to Mander. Mander is convicted of murder and sentenced to death—but there's more to the story.


First film of Spencer Tracy's 20-year career at MGM. A young MGM contract player named James Stewart plays "Shorty", another reporter at Steve's paper. It was Stewart's feature film debut (his actual film debut was the year before in a comedy short called Art Trouble).


  • The Alcoholic: Steve drinks constantly; in his first appearance he's found passed-out in a carousel. It's eventually revealed that the loss of his wife is what drove him to drink.
  • Driven to Suicide: The woman who calls Halford at the beginning, who got dumped and lost all her money, drowns herself in the bay.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: A series of newspaper boys hawking extras is used as a Time Passes Montage to narrate the passing of the trial, the conviction, and Mander's sentence to death.
  • Foreshadowing: It's not hard to figure out that Steve did it. Over the course of the movie we find out that Steve's father lost his money in the Ponzi scheme, and that the woman who drowned herself was Steve's ex-wife who left him for Halford.
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  • Frame-Up: Steve convincingly frames Mander for the murder of his partner.
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself: Sort of—Steve isn't actually a detective, he's a reporter, but basically he acts like a detective, leading the police investigation. And Steve is the one who did it, killing Halford and framing Mander, getting revenge for the death of his wife.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Steve, chasing leads, basically investigating the murder himself. Subverted at the end when he's revealed as the murderer.
  • Kubrick Stare: Steve's posture in the jail interview room as he gives his rage-filled "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Mander.
  • Ironic Nickname: "Shorty", played by the tall, gangly James Stewart.
  • Love Interest: Virginia Bruce plays Mary, the advice columnist at the paper, who's in love with Steve. She doesn't have much to do until the ending when the truth is revealed.
  • Mathematician's Answer: The reporters are irritating the police captain.
    Reporter: Do you have any idea who killed Halford?
    Captain: Yep.
    Reporter: Who was it?
    Captain: It was the man that fired the shot.
  • Ponzi: It seems that Halford and Mander are running a Ponzi scheme, even though no one uses that phrase and they somehow managed to dodge earlier investigations. In private they both talk about how they're bilking their investors. An accountant questioned by the cops states matter-of-factory that he took the securities given him by investors, cashed them, and put the cash in Halford and Mander's personal accounts, the classic Ponzi scheme setup.
  • Punk in the Trunk: An unusual spin on this when Shorty hides in a trunk, namely Mary's trunk, as he wants to find Steve. Played for a gag when tall Jimmy Stewart has to unfold himself from the tiny trunk he managed to squeeze into.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Mander, facing a sentence of death in a matter of hours, frantically begs Steve for help finding the real killer. Steve, seething with rage, delivers a verbal beatdown to Mander in which he says that Mander victimized and exploited innocent people, including Steve's father, who lost his money to their Ponzi scheme. He ends by telling Mander that he knows Mander is innocent but he isn't going to do anything about it.
  • Running Gag: Steve, being inside the investigation, continually shocks both his editor and stories by correctly anticipating what's going to happen and filing stories in advance, thus getting scoops. This is Played for Drama at the end when he files the story of his own confession in advance.
  • Title Drop: Steve is constantly called "the murder man" because he works the murder beat, and is the best in town about it.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: The huge headline for the anonymous woman who drowns herself is odd.

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