Maria Marten, or The Murder in the Red Barn (1935)

Article #1390 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-3-2005
Posting Date: 6-2-2005
Directed by George King
Featuring Tod Slaughter, Sophie Stewart, D.J. Williams

A peasant woman loses her respectability to the local magistrate, but he promises to marry her. When the magistrate then loses a gambling bet, he chooses instead to marry a rich heiress. The peasant woman then threatens to tell her story, and the magistrate decides to get rid of her once and for all. Much acting ensues.

In any sort of serious movie, Tod Slaughter’s gleeful, mad, eye-rolling performances would have proven serious handicaps. As for as I know, though, Slaughter never made that mistake, and stuck to the mellerdrammer form where the sheer shamelessness of his scenery-chewing proved positively sublime. This one takes a little while to get going, but once Slaughter tries his hand at murder, there’s no end to the theatrics. His refusal to show the least embarassment is his greatest asset; his total commitment to his muse brings these static movies to life in a way that make them amazing cinematic novelties. For my money, this one has one of his best performances, especially during the sequences where he is awaiting his execution and where he finds himself trapped into revealing his crime. They don’t make ’em like this anymore; in fact, if it hadn’t been for Slaughter, I don’t think they would have made them like that then either. Slight horror elements (the murder scene, Slaughter’s madness) nudge the movie into marginal horror.

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