Don Siegel, who had worked at Warner Bros. for years as everything from film librarian to respected second-unit director and montage specialist, was finally given the chance to direct his first feature film--ironically, it was the last film that the popular duo of Greenstreet and Lorre
would ever appear in together. In the fog-shrouded London of 1890, Greenstreet plays the aging superintendent of Scotland Yard who is finally forced out when a man he caught and helped convict of murder is found innocent--after his execution. Greenstreet is replaced by a pompous inspector,
Coulouris, who ridicules the outgoing superintendent's methods and boasts about his own crime-solving abilities. Soon after, the landlady at the boarding house across the street from where Greenstreet lives arrives in a panic claiming something bad may have happened to Lowry, one of her tenants
who is locked in his room. Greenstreet accompanies the worried woman back to the house, and when there is no response, he breaks down the door. Lowry isd lying prone and the woman immediately goes to call police. When the men from Scotland Yard arrive, they discover that Lowry has been stabbed to
death. Greenstreet watches Coulouris' handling of the case with interest. Also interested in the case is Lorre, an artist and good friend of Greenstreet's who is known for his ghastly illustrations and is working on the pictures to accompany the book on crime detection Greenstreet is now writing.
The murder is a puzzler because the victim was found murdered in a room that was locked from the inside. Anxious to prove to Greenstreet that he is a better superintendent, Coulouris makes some quick conclusions and arrests Cavanagh, another friend of Greenstreet's, and charges him with murder.
Armed with circumstantial evidence, Coulouris railroads the case through the courts and helps convict Cavanagh. The execution date is set. Greenstreet knows his friend is innocent and learns from Lorring, a cabaret singer, that a woman who could provide Cavanagh with an alibi has fled to the
continent. Greenstreet tracks the woman down but finds that she has died. Because he cannot provide an alibi for his innocent friend, Greenstreet is forced to confess that he is the murderer. Greenstreet explains that the victim was the true culprit of the murder that the innocent man was hanged
for. In order to enact crude justice and prove to Coulouris that his arrogant boasting could get him into the same type of trouble that Greenstreet had found himself in, the former superintendent concocted the "perfect" crime. Greenstreet drugged his victim so that he would return home, lock
himself in and pass out. When the landlady's pounding failed to arouse Lowry, she immediately went to Greenstreet, who feigned concern and broke down the door. What the landlady saw was the prone, but very much alive, body of Lowry. When she went to call the police, Greenstreet stabbed the
unconscious man to death. From the landlady's testimony, the room was locked and Lowry was dead when Greenstreet broke down the door. Though Greenstreet has graphically proved his point, he now faces the gallows.
Siegel, who would soon prove himself to be a skillful and versatile craftsman with such films as RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11, THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, FLAMING STAR, HELL IS FOR HEROES, MADIGAN, COOGAN'S BLUFF, DIRTY HARRY, THE SHOOTIST, and ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, demonstrated a keen
understanding of mood, lighting, and composition in THE VERDICT. The film was shot on the Warner backlot on 25 outdoor and indoor sets. There was a strike during production, however, and it became necessary to shoot the film quickly with whatever personnel were available--which must have frazzled
the already jittery nerves of the rookie director. Luckily his stars, Greenstreet and Lorre, liked each other and worked well together. The director and his stars shared the same sense of dry humor, and the film is filled with subtle jokes, for example, Lorre morbidly remarking that the exhuming
of a grave is "exciting," and the corpulent Greenstreet saying that Coulouris is, "...getting too big for his breeches, but not big enough for mine!" This was the third filming of Zangwill's novel, one of the earliest of many locked-room mysteries to come. FBO had filmed it in 1928, with the title
THE PERFECT CRIME, as a quasi-comedy. The studio had not yet entirely mastered the new technique of synchronous-sound recording, and the picture was a jumble, mingling dialog with subtitles. The studio was later acquired by RKO, and the story was once again given a film treatment as THE CRIME
DOCTOR (1934). Warner Bros. purchased the rights to the story from RKO in 1944 for a reported price of $13,500 to use as a vehicle for their famous scary pair, Lorre and Greenstreet.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Don Siegel, who had worked at Warner Bros. for years as everything from film librarian to respected second-unit director and montage specialist, was finally given the chance to direct his first feature film--ironically, it was the last film that the popula… (more)