Dear Murderer

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Dear Murderer
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Arthur Crabtree
Written by Muriel Box
Sydney Box
Peter Rogers
Based onplay by St. John Legh Clowes
Produced by Betty Box
Sydney Box
Starring Eric Portman
Greta Gynt
Cinematography Stephen Dade
Edited by Gordon Hales
Music by Benjamin Frankel
Distributed by General Film Distributors (UK)
Universal (US)
Release date
  • 29 May 1947 (1947-05-29)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£125,000 [1]
Box office£139,000 (by July 1953) [2]

Dear Murderer is a 1947 British film noir crime, drama, thriller, directed by Arthur Crabtree for Gainsborough Pictures, and starring Eric Portman and Greta Gynt.


The film has come to be regarded as one of the best movies made under the supervision of Sydney Box at Gainsborough. [2]


Lee and Vivien Warren are trapped in a nightmare marriage. Vivien is despising, devious and habitually unfaithful while Lee is pathologically jealous. On his return from a lengthy business trip to New York, suspicious after his wife failed to write to him or call, Lee finds several cards addressed to Vivien signed "Love Always" and determines to kill her latest lover, Richard Fenton. He confronts Fenton, who admits to his affair with Vivien, and persuades him to end the relationship by writing her a farewell letter. He then kills Fenton, and stages the scene to look like a suicide, believing he has committed the perfect crime as the letter which Fenton had just written at his dictation has all the appearance of a suicide note.

His scheme goes awry when he discovers immediately after the fact that Vivien and Fenton had in fact broken up some time before, and Fenton had been humouring him by writing the note. He is guilt-stricken at having killed Fenton needlessly, and realises that any suggestion of suicide on Fenton's part in despair over Vivien will now seem absurd to the police. When he discovers that Vivien now has a new beau, Jimmy Martin, he takes the opportunity to frame Martin for the crime, reasoning that this will serve the dual purpose of shifting suspicion away from himself while at the same time getting Vivien's current lover out of the way. While he arranges matters so that all the evidence points to Martin, the policeman in charge of the case, Inspector Pembury, has his doubts about the case but is unable to catch Lee out.

Vivien begs her husband to intercede on Martin's behalf, promising to remain faithful in the future if he can devise a way to save Martin from the gallows without incriminating himself. Lee changes his testimony to the police to say that Fenton had died of suicide but that he had later manipulated the crime scene to look like he was murdered by Martin. Vivien convinces Lee to write a letter unbeknownst to him is intended to act as a suicide note. She gives him a drink containing an overdose of his regular medications. While Lee is dying, Vivien confesses to lying to him and that she only loved Martin. She attempts to reunite with Martin who wants nothing to do with her. Vivien returns dejectedly back to her apartment and, despite initially feigning distress at her husband's death, is arrested by Pembury for Lee's murder. Her lover Jimmy Martin's ring is given back to her stating 'til death do us part'. The film ends with her laughing cruelly, symbolising her downfall into madness.


Original play

The film was based on a play by St. John Legh Clowes. It debuted in a small theatre in London that had specialised in Grand Guignol plays and was so popular it was transferred to the West End in 1946, where it was a hit. [3] [4] Director Sam Woods wanted to buy the film rights. [5] Film rights were purchased by Sydney Box. [6]

There were plans to produce the play on Broadway starring Francis Lederer but this did not happen. [7]


It was one of the first films made at Gainsborough Pictures after Sydney Box took over as head of production. The adaptation was very faithful to the script. [8]

Filming took place in late 1946. [9] It was produced by Sydney's sister Betty. [10]

The film was shot as Islington Studios. [11]

The cast included two young actors whom Box was trying to build into stars, Maxwell Reed and Hazel Court. [12] Both were from his acting company, The Company of Youth. [13]


The film was well-received for its tautness and ingenuity, with one reviewer noting: "Dear Murderer is a shrewd, semi-psychological thriller with Eric Portman, a well-known menace...being sinister to the height of his bent. The plot is good and chilling." [14] It also received positive notices on its release in the U.S.: "Another masterful picture from overseas, a carefully plotted dramatic thriller which revolves very neatly about the commission of the perfect crime." [15]

The movie was given a Royal Command Performance in Oslo, Norway. [16] (Star Greta Gynt was Norwegian.)

Attempted murder trial

The movie featured in a trial. Arthur Colyer was arrested for attempted murder of his wife. His wife was accused of passing off the plot for Dear Murderer as evidence, although she denied it. [17]

Other versions of the play

The play was adapted for British TV in 1949 and 1957, and for German TV in 1972.

Dan O'Herlihy performed the role on stage in Los Angeles in 1955. [18]

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  1. "Woman Film Producer 'Bloodthirsty'". Tweed Daily . Murwillumbah, NSW. 23 January 1947. p. 3. Retrieved 17 December 2015 via National Library of Australia.
  2. 1 2 Andrew Spicer, Sydney Box Manchester Uni Press 2006 p 210
  3. LEWIS B. FUNKE. (17 February 1946). "NEWS AND GOSSIP GATHERED ALONG THE RIALTO". New York Times. p. 47.
  4. Trewin, J C. (4 August 1946). "THEATRE AND LIFE". The Observer. p. 2.
  5. Schallert, Edwin (6 September 1946). "Wyatt 'Boomerang' Deal Hovers at Signing Stage". Los Angeles Times. p. A7.
  6. film/DVD review"MESSRS. BOX & BOX WRITE A FILM DIARY". The Tatler and Bystander. Vol. 181, no. 2361. London. 25 September 1946. pp. 400–401.
  7. LOUIS CALTA (20 March 1947). "SIMONOV COMEDY DUE AT BILTMORE: ' Whole World Over' to Bow on Thursday--'Bathsheba' Will Arrive Preceding Night". New York Times. p. 39.
  8. "DEAR MURDERER". Film History. Vol. 15, no. 3. Sydney. 2003. p. 295.
  9. "Record Year Predicted For British Films". The Sydney Morning Herald . No. 34, 010. 24 December 1946. p. 10 (The Sydney Morning Herald Magazine.). Retrieved 27 October 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  10. "Producers run in Box family". The Australian Women's Weekly . Vol. 14, no. 42. 29 March 1947. p. 32. Retrieved 27 October 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  11. "London Newsreel". The Daily News . Vol. LXV, no. 22, 460 (LATE SPORTS ed.). Western Australia. 5 April 1947. p. 12. Retrieved 27 October 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  12. "BRITAIN'S STARS OF THE FUTURE". The Mercury . Vol. CLXV, no. 23, 820. Tasmania, Australia. 12 April 1947. p. 3 (The Mercury Magazine). Retrieved 27 October 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  13. "Hard work and no glamor for starlets". The Australian Women's Weekly . Vol. 15, no. 11. 23 August 1947. p. 40. Retrieved 27 October 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  14. "Films in Glasgow" The Glasgow Herald, 07-07-1947. Retrieved 11-08-2010
  15. "Dizzy Screen Fare Now at Harlem" Baltimore Afro-American, 18-06-1949. Retrieved 11-08-2010
  16. "FILM FLASHES". Truth . No. 2992. Sydney. 25 May 1947. p. 58. Retrieved 27 October 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  17. "CLAIMS EVIDENCE FOLLOWED THEME OF "DEAR MURDERER"". Truth . No. 2548. Brisbane. 23 January 1949. p. 32. Retrieved 27 October 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  18. Schallert, Edwin (21 September 1955). "Big Moments of Suspense Enliven 'Dear Murderer'". Los Angeles Times. p. 20.