Name Occurs Before Title
Print Viewed By AFI
New York opening: 4 May 1944
mid-Aug--mid-Nov 1943; addl scenes began late Dec 1943
Duration (in mins):
111 or 114
Duration (in feet):
Duration (in reels):
Print this page
Display Movie Summary
(Gregory Anton [previously known as Sergius Bauer])
(Paula Alquist [Anton])
Through courtesy of David O. Selznick
through courtesy of David O. Selznick
Dame May Whitty
(Miss [Bessy] Thwaites)
(Paula, age 14)
(Boy in museum)
(Girl, age 10)
(Singing flower vendor)
After her aunt and guardian, Alice Alquist, a renowned opera singer, is strangled to death in their London home at No. 9 Thornton Square, traumatized teenager Paula Alquist moves to Italy. Ten years later, Paula confesses to her devoted voice teacher, Maestro Guardi, that she has finally put her past behind her and fallen in love. Guardi encourages Paula to follow her heart, and consequently, she accepts the proposal of Gregory Anton, a pianist whom she has known for only two weeks. During their honeymoon in Lake Como, Gregory tells Paula that he has always dreamed of living in a fashionable London square, and anxious to please her husband, Paula suggests they move to her aunt's house in Thornton Square. As soon as they are back at long-deserted No. 9, however, Paula's terrifying memories begin to resurface, so Gregory insists that all of her aunt's belongings be stored in the attic. Paula then finds a letter hidden in her aunt's sheet music, dated two days before her murder, in which the writer, Sergius Bauer, begs to see her aunt. When Paula reads Bauer's name out loud, Gregory angrily grabs the letter and silences her. Three months later, as they are about to leave for a much-anticipated Tower of London tour, Gregory presents Paula with his great-grandmother's brooch, but cautions her not to wear it until the clasp has been fixed. Paula, who has not strayed from the house or entertained any visitors since marrying, puts the brooch in her purse, dismissing Gregory's warning that she might lose it. During the tour, however, Paula senses that the brooch is missing and becomes agitated. Then, while walking toward the Crown Jewels exhibit, Paula is greeted warmly by Brian Cameron, who had been a fan of Alice's and momentarily mistook Paula for her aunt. Gregory is immediately suspicious of Brian, even though Paula insists that she has never met him. Once back at home, a contrite Paula confesses to Gregory that she lost the brooch, and he accuses her of being forgetful. Later that night, after Gregory has left for his music studio, Paula sees the gaslights in her bedroom dim inexplicably and hears footsteps overhead. Two months later, Brian appears in Thornton Square and questions Paula's nosy neighbor, Miss Bessy Thwaites, about Paula. At that moment, Brian sees Paula standing in her front door, apparently preparing to leave. When Nancy Oliver, a saucy young maid hired by Gregory, asks Paula exactly where she is going, however, the increasingly insecure Paula retreats inside. Made suspicious by Paula's odd behavior, Brian, a Scotland Yard detective, studies the police file on Alice's unsolved murder and learns that several foreign crown jewels, which had been given secretly to Alice by a royal admirer, disappeared on the night of the murder. Convinced that Paula is in danger, Brian assigns Williams, a constable, to keep an eye on No. 9. Later, after Gregory accuses Paula of harboring an irrational mistrust of Nancy, Brian, posing as Miss Thwaites's nephew, tries to call on Paula, but is turned away on Gregory's orders. Paula is upset and confused by Gregory's manipulations, but forgives him as soon as he announces that he is taking her to the theater that night. Paula's joy is cut short, however, when Gregory accuses her of absentmindedly removing a painting from the parlor wall. Although Paula pleads her innocence, Gregory finds the painting on the staircase, where it had ended up twice before, and contends that she moved it in a thoughtless daze. Gregory then tells Paula she is too sick to go out and prepares to leave for his studio. Revealing that she has been hearing strange noises, Paula begs Gregory not to go, but he dismisses her fears and leaves. Soon after, Paula sees the lights dim and hears the overhead footsteps. Sometime later, Brian and the Antons are invited to a piano concert at Lord and Lady Dalroy's. As the evening is about to start, however, the Dalroys receive a note from Gregory stating that Paula is too ill to attend. At home, Paula becomes upset when Gregory tells her about the note and threatens to go to the Dalroys' alone. Gregory then agrees to attend, but during the concert, he whispers to Paula that his watch is missing. Paula immediately finds it in her purse and starts to cry, disrupting the performance. Gregory and Paula return home hurriedly and, unknown to them, are followed by Brian. When Paula comments that her mental problems began with the discovery of her aunt's letter, Gregory angrily informs her that the letter never existed and that she is going insane, just as her dead mother had years before. He then tells her that he has arranged for two doctors to examine her, with the intention of committing her to an asylum, and leaves for his studio. Brian and Williams trail him as he circles around the block, but soon lose him in the fog. Inside, Paula begins to hear the footsteps and asks Elizabeth Tompkins, the cook, if she hears them too. Elizabeth is hard of hearing, however, and says no. Later, Williams reports to Brian that he saw a disheveled Gregory emerge from the mews outside his house, causing Brian to speculate that he must have gone into the deserted No. 5 and crossed the roof to No. 9. That night, Brian waits for Gregory to depart and then pushes past Elizabeth to see Paula. While Brian talks with Paula, convincing her that she is sane, Gregory is tearing apart Alice's furniture in the attic, searching for something. Brian forces open Gregory's desk and notices that Gregory's gun is missing from its box. At the same time, Paula finds her aunt's letter, and by comparing the handwriting on the letter against Gregory's note to the Dalroys, Brian concludes that Gregory is Bauer, whom he knows was one of Alice's accompanists. Brian speculates that Gregory killed Alice for the jewels but, as he was unable to find them on the night of the murder, married Paula to gain access to the house. At that moment, Gregory, still upstairs, finally finds the jewels, which were sewn onto one of Alice's opera costumes, and tears them off. Seeing the gaslights suddenly brighten, Brian leaves the house before Gregory descends from the attic. As Gregory confronts Paula about the broken desk lock, Brian, having entered the attic through the roof, appears with the torn costume and accuses Gregory of Alice's murder. The two men begin to fight upstairs, and, when Paula hears a gunshot, she rushes to the attic and finds Gregory tied to a chair. After a distraught Paula taunts the imprisoned Gregory, he confesses his crimes, noting that the jewels had an unnatural hold over him. As they wait for the police, Brian consoles Paula and offers to visit her whenever she needs him.
Arthur Hornblow Jr.
John Van Druten
John L. Balderston
(Dir of photog)
Ralph E. Winters
Edwin B. Willis
Nat W. Finston
(Makeup created by)
(Tech adv on mus)
(Ingrid Bergman's dial coach)
Selections from Sonata in C Minor, Opus 13 (
) by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Based on the play
by Patrick Hamilton (London, 31 Jan 1939).
Passed By NBR:
Western Electric Sound System
Como, Lake (Italy)
Scotland Yard (London, England)
Tower of London (London, England)
In addition to the Beethoven sonata, a snippet from "Mattinati" by Ruggiero Leoncavella, as scored for piano by Robert Franklin and Charles Platte, is performed in the film. Following its successful run in London, Patrick Hamilton's play
opened in New York on 5 Dec 1941 under the title
. Shepard Traube directed Judith Evelyn, Vincent Price and Leo G. Carroll in the long-running Broadway production. In May 1940, British National Pictures released the first screen version of Hamilton's play, titled
. Columbia acquired the American distribution rights to the British film, which was directed by Thorold Dickinson and starred Diana Wynyard and Anton Walbrook, in 1941, and planned to release it under the title
A Strange Case of Murder
indicates that Columbia was still cutting the British film as of Feb 1942, the studio never released the picture. According to an Oct 1942
news item, Columbia was enjoined from releasing the film in the U.S. by Traube, who owned the American dramatic rights to the play. Modern sources note that M-G-M approached Traube about doing a screen version of his Broadway production, but as Traube did not control any screen rights, M-G-M was forced to negotiate with the English holders of the rights and eventually agreed to film the play under its original title. According to
, the studio paid $150,000 for the film rights to the London production. In Aug 1944,
reported rumors that M-G-M had destroyed "the negative and every copy" of the British film, "except for one (possibly) forgotten print in the British Film Institute." Despite the rumors, the British version was released in the U.S. by Commercial Pictures in Apr 1953 under the title
was released in Great Britain under the title
Murder in Thornton Square
According to modern sources, Vincente Minnelli was first slated to direct the picture, but screenwriters John Van Druten and Walter Reisch pushed for George Cukor, who eventually got the job. Melvyn Douglas and Irene Dunne were announced as the film's probable stars in Oct 1942, according to news items. Douglas was dropped in Dec 1942, after he joined the Army. Ingrid Bergman commented in her autobiography that she first wanted to do
after seeing the play on Broadway, but producer David O. Selznick, who controlled her contract, refused to purchase the property for her without substantial changes to her contract, which she rejected. Bergman also noted in her autobiography that, for one of her romantic scenes with Charles Boyer, Boyer, who was shorter than she, stood on a box. In Jul 1943,
announced that June Duprez was testing for a "lead" role, and that composer-pianist Albert Coates was being considered for a "dramatic" role. Neither performer appeared in the completed film, however. According to an M-G-M publicity item, Deidre Gale, "English child star," was to play Joseph Cotten's niece in the film, but her participation in the picture has not been confirmed. In Aug 1943,
announced that George Reeves was to play the "juvenile lead" in the picture, but his participation is doubtful. Jessica Newcombe, Keith Hitchcock and Percival Vivian were listed in
as cast members, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to
, production designer William L. Pereira was brought in as a consultant on the picture for one week.
Angela Lansbury made her screen debut in the film. In some
production charts, Lansbury in listed as Angela Marlowe. In a modern interview, Cukor stated that, when he began searching for an actress to play the part of "Nancy," writer Van Druten suggested that he contact Lansbury's actress mother, Moyna MacGill, a recent British emigre, who Van Druten thought might have a talented teenaged daughter. Louella Parsons commented in her
review of the film that Lansbury, an "English refugee girl of 17...shows great promise as an actress." The
reviewer also noted that Lansbury showed "great promise," while the
reviewer announced that Lansbury scored "a hit." Lansbury's performance earned her an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress, as well as a contract at M-G-M, the studio at which she made many films.
In addition to Lansbury's nomination,
was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Actor (Boyer), Best Cinematography (b&w), Best Writing (Screenplay) and Best Picture. Bergman won an Oscar as Best Actress and Cedric Gibbons, William Ferrari, Edwin B. Willis and Paul Huldschinsky won Oscars for Best Art Direction (b&w). Bergman also won a National Board of Review award for her performance in the picture. Bergman and Boyer reprised their roles in a 26 Apr 1946
Lux Radio Theatre
Hamilton's play has been dramatized on television many times, all under the title
. The first production was broadcast on 23 Jan 1946 as part of NBC's
Classic Plays on Television
program. Judith Evelyn recreated her Broadway role for the show, which was produced by Ernest Colling. Theatre Guild presented its version, starring Betty Field, Walter Abel and Leo G. Carroll, in his Broadway role, on NBC on 25 Jan 1948. On 20 Oct 1950, the CBS network televised another version, directed by Franklin Schaffner and starring Judith Evelyn and Ferdi Hoffman. Station WOR in New York presented two versions; the first, broadcast on 13 May 1952, starred Victor Jory and Lola Montez, the second, broadcast on 21 Dec 1953, starred Sylvia Sidney. On 25 Mar 1954, Leueen McGrath and Jerome Kilty starred in a
version on the ABC network. On 9 May 1958, Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn and Leo G. Carroll recreated their Broadway roles for NBC's program
, which was directed by Walter Grauman.
news items provide the following additional information about the film: On 11 Jun 1953, comedian Jack Benny shot a parodic version of
for his CBS television
program, starring himself, Barbara Stanwyck, Bob Crosby, Eddie Anderson and Don Wilson. Before it could be broadcast, however, Loew's Inc. and Patrick Hamilton filed a federal lawsuit against Benny, CBS and sponsor American Tobacco Company, preventing the sketch from being shown. Although Benny had already satirized the picture during a 30 Jan 1952 broadcast of his comedy show, Loew's Inc. and Hamilton argued that the 1953 production, titled
, constituted "infringement and unfair competition." On 21 Sep 1954, Judge James C. Carter found in favor of Loew's Inc. and Hamilton, stating that Benny had not only burlesqued the picture, but had also "appropriated a substantial part of [the] film and therefore went beyond the bounds of license to comedians." Arguing that the lower court's ruling would create a "stifling effect on parody and burlesque," Benny's lawyers took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in Apr 1957. On 17 Mar 1958, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision by a split decision. (Justice William O. Douglas did not participate in the vote). Benny finally bought a seven-year license from M-G-M, which allowed the parody to be televised, and CBS aired
on 13 Jan 1959.
13 May 1944.
8 May 44
9 May 55
p. 1, 6
15 Mar 1957.
30 Jan 1958.
18 Mar 1958.
11 May 44
4 May 42
14 Oct 42
9 Nov 42
8 Dec 42
1 Jun 43
18 Jun 43
1 Jul 43
14 Jul 43
22 Jul 43
4 Aug 43
9 Aug 43
13 Aug 43
31 Aug 43
15 Sep 43
12 Nov 43
22 Dec 43
31 Mar 44
8 May 44
9 May 44
7 Jul 44
31 Jul 44
27 Dec 44
p. 1, 16
12 Jun 1953.
18 Mar 1958.
12 Nov 1958.
Los Angeles Examiner
19 Jul 1944.
Los Angeles Times
15 Jan 59
Pt. II, p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
4 Mar 44
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
16 May 44
New York Times
8 Nov 1942.
New York Times
5 May 44
New York Times
13 Aug 1944.
10 May 44
Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
© 2016 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.