The King Murder (1932)
Director: Richard Thorpe
Cast: Conway Tearle, Natalie Moorhead, Marceline Day
Synopsis: A beautiful blonde who makes a career out of seducing and then blackmailing wealthy married men is found murdered
This obscure little B-movie takes as its source material the true-life murder of ‘Broadway Butterfly’ Dorothy ‘Dot’ King, the mistress of a wealthy businessman who was found murdered in her ‘love nest’ apartment in 1923, and whose killer was never found. This might go some way towards explaining why the opening ten minutes is a confusing whirl of introductions to a disparate group of characters, were it not for the fact that most of them are fictitious creations, created purely for the purpose of the film.
Former silent screen idol Conway Tearle (Stella Maris) gives a somewhat wooden performance as Detective Chief Henry Barton, who’s called in to investigate the murder of flapper Miriam King (Dorothy Revier — The Iron Mask), with whom Barton’s friend Van Kempen (Robert Frazer) has been carrying on an affair. Barton knows this because, shortly before he was informed of the murder, he was paid a visit by Van Kempen’s wife, Elizabeth (Natalie Moorhead — The Thin Man) who suspected her husband was conducting an affair with Miss King. Naturally this makes Van Kempen a prime suspect in the murder, but although we’re not let in on the identity of the killer until the final scenes, we’re shown enough characters involved with Miriam King to know that Van Kempen isn’t the only one who could have had reason to murder her.
For a start there’s the slick Jose Moreno (Don Alvarado — The Battle of the Sexes, The Big Steal), who was once a lover of Miss King’s and who is now involved with her former flat-mate Pearl Hope (Marceline Day — The Beloved Rogue). We first meet Moreno as he spies on King from the apartment of Hope, who lives across an adjoining roof from her former flat-mate. He’s waiting for her to fall asleep so that he can sneak into her room and retrieve a number of embarrassing love letters he once wrote to her. However, when he succeeds in accessing her room, he discovers that King is dead and for some reason finds it necessary to conjure up an elaborate alibi which takes up a good chunk of The King Murder’s brisk running time, but which also proves to be the most intriguing aspect of the otherwise confusing opening. Then there’s Philip Scott (Maurice Black — Abraham Lincoln, The Front Page) who was blackmailing Miss King in the same way that she was blackmailing a host of former ‘sugar daddy’ lovers to keep their affair a secret from their respective spouses. Scott is in debt to some unseen heavy who’s getting impatient for his money, which leads Scott to put the pressure on King, even if it means her selling her precious jewels.
Barton investigates the murder with the stolid lack of imagination you’d expect from a B-movie cop, and even lets his friend and leading suspect Van Kempen to trail around after him as he questions various suspects. The King Murders starts quite brightly, but it soon becomes bogged down in a lot of talky scenes that take too long to reach any point they’re trying to make, and which are pulled down even further by the poor quality of the acting.
(Reviewed 6th February 2014)