A Blueprint for Murder (1953)

Cinematography Leo Tover
Directed by Andrew L. Stone

Two orphans, Polly and Doug, live with their stepmother Lynne; Polly collapses with the same mystery symptoms that killed her father. The kids’ visiting uncle, Whitney Cameron, is warned that the symptoms match strychnine poisoning, but that poisoners are seldom detected and rarely convicted. Sure enough, no case can be made against the obvious suspect; so what can Whitney do to save the next victim?

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Blueprint meets minimal production codes for suspense

29 September 2002 | by bmacv (Western New York) – See all my reviews

Blueprint for Murder is little more than a suspense-generating contraption, of which Alfred Hitchcock, applying his sadistic perversity, might have made a memorable meal. As it happens, Andrew Stone doesn’t do too shabbily by it either, though it remains four-square and plot-driven. Part of his success is that he’s abetted by an above-average cast which lifts it out of its mechanical origins.

Joseph Cotten returns to New York to visit his brother’s second wife – and widow (Jean Peters); his timing proves inopportune, as his young niece goes into convulsions and dies in hospital. Cause of death remains a puzzler until a family attorney (Gary Merrill) reveals that Peters stands to benefit should both her stepchildren predecease her (a stepson may be next on her list). Though Cotten carries a small torch for Peters, his concern for the surviving son wins out, and an autopsy shows the girl died of strychnine poisoning. Peters ends up going to trial but is acquitted.

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Cotten, however, remains unconvinced, and, unbidden, joins Peters and his nephew on an ocean liner bound for Europe. He hopes to unearth the truth by means of trial by ordeal….

Surprisingly convincing, Peters takes on the role of a reserved society wife (as with most of Howard Hugues’ `protegees,’ she had more sides to her than the ones her Svengali wanted seen). As her housekeeper who also falls, albeit briefly, under suspicion, Mae Marsh turns up – the luminous star of D.W. Griffith’s Judith of Bethulia, Birth of a Nation, and Intolerance (she was donning many a lace cap as a string of maids in this Indian Summer of her stardom).

Stone keeps the movie running along at a good clip and keeps tilting the ambivalence to the very end (Is Peters a wronged woman or a murderous monster? Does Cotten have a buried agenda of his own?).

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To be sure, certain coincidences and turns of plot don’t bear prolonged scrutiny, but they’re not allowed to become incapacitating lapses of logic, either. Blueprint for Murder meets the minimal production codes for suspense.

Pretty, And Not-So-Pretty Poison

7/10
Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
12 February 2008

Most of this movie is a “did-she-or-didn’t-she-do it?” story. Two family members have been poisoned and it looks like the mother, “Lynne Cameron” (Jean Peters) is the killer, but it’s hard to prove. As the film goes on, one has more and more doubts whether she did it. Perhaps the innocent-sounding “Uncle Cam” (Joseph Cotten) is the killer. Hmmmm…..which one is it? Was it the pretty Peters or Cotten?

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For most of the short movie, it was entertaining. It began to drag a bit in the last third but the film, since it is short, should keep your interest enough to find out who’s the killer and how she-or-he did it.

I agree with those posters who felt the ending was a bit disappointing. I was looking for something a little more clever than was presented.

I’d also liked to have seen more scenes with the two supporting actors: Catherine McLeod and Gary Merrill. Both actors were fascinating. McLeod played “Maggie Sargent,” the first character in here to suspect foul play after a child’s death. Merrill played her husband, “Fred.” He also was “Cam’s” lawyer.

McLeod is deceptively good-looking and I wish I could see more things she did, but her IMDb resume indicates she mainly acted on television in the 1950s.

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Overall, this is definitely worth one viewing. It is usually worth seeing the sexy Peters in her prime before she went into retirement a few years later. She did four films in 1953 and three more the next year, several of them being good film noirs (“Pickup On South Street” and “Niagara.”)

A whodunnit with poise, maybe too much poise, but clever and smartly made

7/10
Author: secondtake from United States
22 June 2011

A Blueprint for Murder (1953)

A clean, old-fashioned murder mystery, brightly lit, and even including a voyage on a cruise ship to Europe like some Betty Davis movie, or Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. It’s a crime standard at the end of the film noir era, with a terrific star who never quite fit into any genre very well, Joseph Cotten. It’s smart and fast and strong and almost believable, at least until the drawing room high stakes of the end, which is just great movie-making.

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Cotten plays Whitney Cameron, and he’s visiting his niece in the hospital. Quick facts pour on (and are slightly hard to follow at first): she has some strange affliction, her father (Cameron’s brother) died of a strange affliction a few years earlier, and the stepmother is sweet as cherry pie, though she plays a demonically fierce romantic piano. Then the niece suddenly dies, and before Cameron leaves the scene, suspicions arise about the stepmother.

By the way, stepmothers can do terrible things that mothers would never do to their own children, like murder them. And so we are led down that obvious path. Soon, however, we know that the movie can’t be quite that simple, and another suspect clarifies. The view is left deciding who is playing the better game of “not me.” It’s good stuff, very good, though constrained and reasonable, too. We don’t always want “reasonable” in a film.

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The stepmother is excellent, played by Jean Peters, and a helping couple is also first rate, especially Gary Merrill as a lawyer friend. Merrill was in “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “All About Eve,” and is partly why those are great films. Peters plays the cheerful innocent here just as she did in a another pair of masterpieces, “Niagara” (with Cotten) and “Pickup on South Street” (a true noir from the same year as this one).

It’s Cotten who drives the movie, however, and he has a tone rather similar to his similar “visiting uncle” role in “Shadow of a Doubt.” He is, in fact, a kind of soft-spoken, dependable icon in many movies (and later lots of t.v.) and it’s because he’s so normal that I think he’s less adored. But he’s exactly what the movie needs, guiding us first through the police investigation and then the informal one of his own. It had the makings of a tightly woven classic.

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Why are there so many films that are quite good but not amazing? I think a little of everything, often, but here it’s the story itself that is limiting. A great idea, surely, but a little too familiar in its basic plot, and quite simple. A second plot, or another suspect, or another murder along the way would have been just fine. I think the directing (by Andrew Stone) is competent but lacks vision, and an unwillingness to push the edges a little. It proceeds, and we don’t want movies to simply move along. There are, however, some excellent scenes, like one in the police office early on where the two leading men are led from one desk to another, from one group of cops to another, in a flowing, backward moving long take. It’s a lesson in first rate cinematography, actually.

And in fact the movie is totally enjoyable, never slow, expertly done, with a good cast.

‘Don’t touch my feet!’

Author: robert-temple-1 from United Kingdom
18 August 2011

This is a superb and sophisticated murder mystery. Joseph Cotten is in peak form as the lead man, Whitney Cameron, who is called to the bedside of his young niece, who is dying in hospital.

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The child dies of mysterious convulsions, enigmatically and inexplicably crying out: ‘Don’t touch my feet!’ The plot thickens from there, and the strange cry is discovered to have a meaning after all. This is a first rate early fifties noir with Cotton, Jean Peters as his sister-in-law, and Gary Merrill as his lawyer friend. It is excellently directed by Andrew Stone and should be better known than it is. The story is cleverly developed, and the mystery lasts up until the very end of the film. The question is: who poisoned the niece with strychnine, and why? And who will be next? Cotton is urbane, reassuring, and very solid in the main role. Jean Peters is rather more arch than usual, with a character portrayal which is intentionally ambivalent, just to keep us all guessing. One does not know whether she is a femme fatale or not, and the whole point is that no one knows, even within the story. This is a most ingenious whodunit which will not disappoint any viewer.

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