(I am currently in the process of cleaning out my DVR! I recorded the 1953 film noir, A Blueprint for Murder, off of FXM on February 21st.)
Much like Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, A Blueprint for Murder stars Joseph Cotten in a story about a seemingly wonderful person who might actually be a murderer. Actually, now that I think about it, it seems like Joseph Cotten appeared in quite a few films that centered around that idea. What distinguished A Blueprint For Murder is that, for once, Joseph Cotten is not the murderer. Instead, he’s the one who is forced to deal with the overwhelming evidence that someone in his life might be a sociopath.
Cotten plays Cam Cameron, who is shocked when his niece, Polly, suddenly takes ill and dies. Cam’s immediate response is to comfort his sister-in-law, Lynne (Jean Peters). And yet, Lynne doesn’t seem to be too upset over Polly’s death. Could it be because Polly was only her stepdaughter? Or maybe Lynne is no longer surprised by sudden death, seeing as how her husband also died after a sudden and mysterious illness.
Or could it be that Lynne murdered both Polly and her husband? That’s the theory put forward by Maggie (Catherine McLeod), the wife of Cam’s friend, Fred (Gary Merrill). Maggie thinks that it sounds like both Polly and her father were poisoned with strychnine! As the initially skeptical Fred points out, when Lynne’s husband died, he put all of his money in a trust for his children. If his children die, Lynne stands to inherit the fortune. Polly’s already dead. The only remaining obstacle would be Cam’s nephew, Doug.
Much like Don’t Bother To Knock, A Blueprint for Murder barely clocks in at a little over 70 minutes. It’s a briskly told melodrama and, seen today, it’s easier to imagine it as an episode of a television series than as an actual movie. As I watched it, I kept thinking that it felt like an old episode of CSI Miami, with Joseph Cotten in the role that would have been played by David Caruso. (“Two deaths in one family? It sounds like something’s in the water and it’s not fluoride.” YEEEEEEEEEEAHHHHHH! DON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN!! NO NO!) For that matter, it was also easy for me to imagine A Blueprint For Murder being remade for Lifetime, with Josie Davis in the Joseph Cotten role and maybe AnnaLynne McCord replacing Jean Peters.
A Blueprint For Murder is actually pretty predictable up until the final 15 minutes. It’s during the final 15 minutes that Cam, Lynne, and Doug all end up on a cruise ship together and, in an effort to prove his suspicions, Cam does something that has so much potential for backfiring that it kind of makes you reconsider everything that you previously assumed about him. To be honest, it doesn’t make much sense. It’s hard to believe, despite what Cam insists, that what he did was his only possible option. Then again, it is the 1950s. In an era before DNA testing, maybe the only way to solve a crime was by doing something crazy.
That said, I enjoyed A Blueprint for Murder. It’s a real time capsule film and you know how much I love those. I may never be able to find a time machine but I can always experience the past by watching something like A Blueprint for Murder. Joseph Cotten is, as always, a sturdy lead. In real life, Jean Peters’s acting career was somewhat derailed when she married legendary weird guy Howard Hughes. In this film, she gives a great performance as the potentially murderous sister-in-law.
If you’re a fan of 50s noir or either of the two leads, keep an eye out for A Blueprint For Murder.