Today, Detour's Vera meets Ward Cleaver. "Gee, Wally..."
Apology for Murder (1945)
Directed by Sam Newfield
Produced by Sigmund Neufeld
Screenplay and story by Fred Myton
Cinematography by Jack Greenhaigh
Edited by Richard L. Van Enger
Music by Leo Erdody
Sigmund Neufeld Productions
Distributed by Producers Releasing Corporation
(1:07) Amazon Prime
If you’ve watched Detour this Noirvember, you might be eager to check out more films starring Ann Savage, but if you think any of her other roles will match her portrayal of Vera from Edgar G. Ulmer’s low-budget classic, forget it. I haven’t seen all of Savage’s work, but Detour was undoubtedly her finest hour. Yet that doesn’t mean her other films aren’t worth a look. So is Apology for Murder (1945) a good place to start?
Newspaper reporter Kenny Blake (Hugh Beaumont) calls on business tycoon Harvey Kirkland (Russell Hicks) for an interview (because everyone wants to know what rich guys are doing all the time, right?). Arriving at the Kirkland estate, Kenny sees a middle-aged man telling a woman seated in a large, plush chair that he’s going to cancel all her charge accounts. All we can see of the woman is a shapely leg kicking up from the chair. Then Kenny gets a closer look at Toni Kirkland (Ann Savage), a good enough look to make Kenny go all goo-goo. He assumes she’s Kirkland’s daughter, but she’s not. She’s his wife.
Kirkland tells Kenny he has nothing to say for publication, but Kenny has long forgotten about his story assignment. With better things to do, Kirkland leaves, and Kenny swoops in. “Your husband?” he says to Toni, “He’s old enough to be your father.” Soon we’ve got some risqué banter going back and forth between Kenny and Toni, banter that sounds familiar. Soon Kenny will start calling Toni “baby,” which also sounds familiar.
It doesn’t take very long for even newbie noir fans to know that Apology for Murder is a direct and unapologetic rip-off of Double Indemnity, released one year earlier. Like Billy Wilder’s classic, Toni and Kenny plot to bump off Kirkland and bring home his dough. Kenny’s editor, Ward McKee (Charles D. Brown) assumes the role of Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) from Double Indemnity, even borrowing the match-lighting motif from that film. Also borrowing from the classic, we have a witness who travels a long way to tell his story, a close call near-discovery of shenanigans between the criminal couple, a final-reel confession, and more. It’s certainly understandable that someone would want to imitate a hit like Double Indemnity, but here’s one that gives it a paint-by-the-numbers treatment.
You might ask how Poverty Row studio PRC could get away with such blatant copying of a well-known (to say nothing of very successful) property. PRC definitely sought to cash in on the Billy Wilder noir masterpiece, choosing to release the film under the title Single Indemnity. (No lie!) Paramount, which produced Double Indemnity, threatened legal action if that name was used, so PRC went with Apology for Murder.
I can just see director Sam Newfield and producer Sigmund Neufeld (brothers, despite the different spellings of their last names) dreaming of all the cash they imagined would roll in as a result of this film. Or maybe they didn’t spend much time thinking about it. Sam was always directing something, with an astounding 277 directorial credits on IMDb ranging from 1926 to 1964. Sigmund, the head of PRC, had to keep his brother in various pen names so people wouldn’t notice he directed such an ungodly long list of movies. The brothers also kept busy cranking out films in order to finance Sigmund’s gambling addiction.
But what about the film? Ann Savage is certainly not playing the character of Vera here (who would be unleashed on the public just one month after Apology for Murder), but she plays the role convincingly and is smart enough not to attempt a Barbara Stanwyck copycat performance. Hugh Beaumont doesn’t even come close to what was undoubtedly the finest performance of Fred MacMurray’s career, but I didn’t exactly expect him to. For what it is, Apology for Murder is a fairly standard noir, still very much worth watching. If someone had never seen Double Indemnity, Apology for Murder might be a fairly enjoyable low-budget movie experience, but please, see Double Indemnity first.
Note that the picture quality of the film on Amazon Prime is awful. You can also find it on YouTube, which might look better.
Next time: Stay tuned!