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The Riverside Murder (1935)
Warning: The full synopsis contains "spoilers" which describe key plot points. If you don't want to know the plot and outcome of this film then please don't read any further.

Murder or Suicide

The film begins with Mr Norman taking documents out of a safe in the library. This character is immediately shot by an unidentified assassin (we only see the gun). Two of the residents of the house (Perrin and Sanders - friends of Norman) rather quaintly believe the death to be a suicide.

Alastair Sim in The Riverside Murder

Cut to office of Detective Inspector Philip Winton - our hero. In a rather disturbing scene (to my eyes) Winton is struggling desperately to cope with a lost boy who wants his "mummy". Enter Mac with an important message regarding the death of Mr. Norman. The characters are defined from the outset with Winton as the dashing yet caring Inspector and Alastair playing the rather straight laced yet comic Scotsman (a character I believe he was deliberately selected to play and which would remain with him for a time). Winton and Mac then proceed to the scene of what is now believed to be a murder.

Residents cast suspicion on a mysterious girl who was has visited Norman earlier in the day yet no-one has seen leave. As Winton quizzes the residents and domestics, Alastair struts around cutting (what to him is a serious) a somewhat comic figure. There is a rather nice scene from Alastair where Winton is questioning the housekeeper and Mac, in the background, is listening intently and smiling, making quizzical looks, sighing and generally stealing the scene.

Sergeant Mac McKay

Alastair sim as Sergeant MckayTwo of the residents (Perrin and Sanders) are observed talking together and one of them makes reference to a mysterious "pact". Alastair, makes a phone call to the mysterious girl who by now has been identified as a newspaper reporter. This phone call is the first scene in which Alastair is revealed as playing Sergeant "Mac" McKayas a serious but somewhat daft comic Scotsman. Cut to a film studio (where, ironically, they are shooting a thriller) to discover the reporter, Miss Haynes, in search of a story. It would appear that Mr. Norman had bought control of the film studio and Miss Haynes wants to be the first to get the story. She appears even happier when she hears from Winton that Norman has been murdered and persuades her editor to let her follow up the story.

The Pact

Norman's lawyer is brought to the house to see if he can reveal the combination to the safe. When talking to Winton he reveals that Norman had made a fortune in the last five years and had some kind of pact with Perrin and Sanders. The lawyer goes on to say that five years ago Norman gave his four best friends some very bad advice and both they and Norman lost a lot of money in a "dud company". However they pooled their remaining money and agreed to share equally in five years anything they may have made in that time. The lawyer has a sealed copy of the agreement in his office. Another of the four, Gregg, couldn't wait for the five years to be up and had been harassing Norman for money up front.

A telegram arrives for Mr. Norman from Alfred Jerome who is revealed to be the fourth member of the pact. Perrin believes that he saw Jerome the previous night but the telegram seems to contradict this fact by stating that Jerome is only arriving in Liverpool this morning (presumably from America). It is then revealed that the pact is due to terminate the following day at midnight.

Jerome's Tattoo
Mac interrogates a suspect

Miss Haynes now revisits the house under the guise of seeing the Inspector but spends more time interrogating the housekeeper. The housekeeper lets slip that Master Philip (Norman's son) had been sent abroad due to a disagreement but then seems to contradict herself and says that he is dead. Gregg is discovered by Perrin and Sanders suspiciously rifling through all of the documents on Norman's desk. Gregg is, not surprisingly, concerned there may be incriminating letters from him demanding money from Norman prior to the pact deadline.

Jerome then arrives on the scene and declares to Perrin and Sanders that they are all in danger because "they" are after them. He shows them an wound where he ensures them a bullet had just grazed him this morning. Opening his shirt he reveals a distinctive tattoo. Miss Haynes is seen scrambling in one of the windows in the Norman house. She then calls Winton at Scotland Yard. She informs Winton that Jerome is in the house. Alfred Jerome is busy cracking up in front of Perrin and Sanders. Hysterical that he is about to be murdered too. Miss Haynes introduces herself to Jerome and Sanders - declaring herself to be a suspect like them. Jerome believes they are all going to be "wiped-out" before the pact deadline. Jerome is about to declare his suspicions as to who the murderer is when he is shot from the window. McKayreturns to the house and enters the room to find the body (and rug that it was on) gone and Miss Hayes knocked unconscious. As the name of the film indicates, the house is situated on the river bank and Winton believes that the body may have been thrown in to the water.

Handcuffs and Haggis

Alastair Sim as "Haggis" McKayMiss Haynes is discovered by Winton making a "scoop" call to her editor about the latest developments in the case; Winton has now had enough of her interference and handcuffs her to the balustrade. When Mac laughs at this scene she angrily declares "You haggis" (this is quite amusing in these politically correct times). Whilst still handcuffed Miss Haynes still manages to elicit more information from the housekeeper as to Mr Norman's son; it seems that he is not physically dead but, because of the trouble he has caused, he is simply "dead to the family". She manages to cajole Winton in to taking her for lunch as compensation for the way he has manhandled her. At lunch she states that Winton should look outside of the immediate circle of the five pact suspects. Whilst choosing lunch she puts some food into Winton's pocket and then instigates his arrest for shoplifting so that she can return to the office with her scoop. On returning to the office she is fired because a photographer from a rival paper has managed to capture her handcuffed to the balustrades.

Shot through the Letterbox
Gregg is shot through the letterbox

Winton is informed that they have located Jerome's body and Sanders identifies it at the morgue. Miss Haynes is seen searching through old back copies of newspapers and she is obviously following up a hunch. In a neat twist, the following morning. Mac, at Winton's request brings Gregg to Mr Norman's house for questioning. As the knock to gain access, a gun appears through the letterbox and shoots Gregg dead. Miss Haynes reveals to Winton the result of her investigations, that Norman's son, Philip, is not dead but has been in prison in Hong Kong.

Winton declares to Perrin and Sanders that he wants them both to return to Norman's house with him that night; they are aware they are being used as bait to trap the murderer. Winton receives a call from his superiors telling him they want him off the case but manages to persuade them to give him until midnight; if he has not resolved it by then, they will not have to ask for his resignation. Winton is then seen giving Mac orders (to which the audience is not privy) for the evening.

The Twist

Gregg is shot through the letterbox

We now see Perrin and Sanders returning to the house and Winton starts to direct them as to what to say and where to go. All is done is a whisper as though he is aware of another presence in the house. Sanders is directed to sit and read in the library whilst Winton waits for the murderer to show. Miss Haynes appears and is nearly knocked out by Winton. It is five to midnight when the door opens. . . .

There is a scuffle and some shots. Jerome is apprehended by Winton. It would appear that, in a complicated deception, Jerome had replicated the tattoo and bullet wound of his accomplice. Jerome then murdered his accomplice and dumped him in the river to be discovered by the police and identified (via the tattoo and gun shot wound) by Sanders in the morgue. The strong resemblance between Jerome and his Winton proposes to Miss Haynesaccomplice was what had given Jerome the idea in the first place. The final twist is that Jerome's accomplice was none other than Norman's son. When the dust had settled on the murders Jerome had intended to turn up in Hong Kong claiming to be Norman's son and inherit the fortune.

The film closes romantically with Winton and Miss Haynes in an argument that ultimately ends in a proposal of marriage.


Claire: You haggis !

The Riverside Murder DVD Cover