Murder in Soho DVD coverDirector: Norman Lee
Screenplay: F. McGrew Willis
Starring: Jack La Rue, Sandra Storme, Bernard Lee, Martin Walker, Drue Layton
Year: 1939
Country: UK
Running Time: 68 mins
BBFC Classification: U

Man about town Steve Marco (La Rue) runs the ‘Cotton Club’ in Soho and he’s really proud of himself for having climbed up the social tree, from washing dishes to running his own successful nightclub. However, the club isn’t the only thing that Steve does and it soon becomes evident that he does more than merely dabble in the black market; he’s a successful racketeer. When equally dodgy associate Joe Lane turns up, gloating that he’s taken what he sees as being rightly his out of Steve’s profits, and that he bought a £2,000 pearl necklace for a girlfriend with that stolen money, it understandably pushes Mr Marco’s buttons and Lane is soon lying in a doorway with two bullet holes drilled in him.

Meanwhile classy hostess Ruby (Storme), who Steve has a thing for (he thinks she’s classy and ‘swell’), gets talking to Inspector Hammond (Walker) and, on realising that she is Lane’s jilted wife, he persuades her to go undercover for him and try and locate the pearl necklace that Joe Lane (on the night of his death) told her he’d bought for his new girlfriend using some of the spoils from a deal he was involved in with Marco.

In between all this is dopey journalist, Roy Barnes, (played well by Bernard Lee; better known for his role as ‘M’ in the later Bond films), is equally smitten with Mrs Lane’s charms and gets sucked in up to his neck when he tries to help her, and Mrytle, another hostess, who is in love with the entrepreneurial Steve and becomes very jealous of his infatuation with Ruby, resulting in devastating consequences.

Unfortunately one of Murder in Soho’s biggest problems is that it tries to cram in too many sub-plots and characters into what is really quite a slight central story. For example, there’s another story thread involving two performers who have an on-going working relationship, but clearly should be more than just friends, and this could have been cut out completely as it adds nothing really to the film, apart from some slight comedic moments.

murder in soho

Murder in Soho is a fairly well told, well shot film, which sadly has dated fairly badly, lacking, as it does, any real tension, but is still quite entertaining in its own way. There’s a bit of humour – mostly unintentional – from some of the dialogue and the things people do. In one amusing scene part of the dance floor sinks down and then rises up quite high and lots of the club’s patrons clamber on board – today a club would never get away with such a health and safety nightmare, but it is, nevertheless, quite comical seeing swaying dancers teetering close to the edge of the raised dais, thinking…any minute now one of them is going to fall!

The film has enough quirky charms to increase the viewer’s enjoyment, including a monkey on loan to the journalist so he can write an article ‘A day in the life of a monkey’, a crazy drunk dancing on his own with an invisible partner and a thug who can’t bear to wear shoes!

The picture quality is very good for a film of this age and, apart from a few minutes of hiss during the final reel, the sound quality is good too.

Murder in Soho is surprisingly deep for a seemingly throwaway film about gangsters in 1930s London. It brings to the fore the issue of class and ‘aiming above your station’, which has always been an issue throughout the ages in the United Kingdom. Steve Marco wants to break out of the ghetto and be something he’s clearly not. He surrounds himself with antiques, drinks expensive liquor and wants to be with a woman of class and decorum, but ultimately ends up being brought down by a part of his past, his own class, a past he can never truly escape from.

Murder in Soho has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing who are, to their credit, currently releasing lots of these rarer British film titles.

Extras consist of a sizable gallery of posters, lobby cards, postcards and photos from the film or of the cast. Looking at the latter, it made me realise that the trend for severely plucked/sculptured eyebrows in women isn’t really anything new!

Reviewer: Justin Richards

About The Author

Justin Richards is a journalist by day and a scriptwriter by night. His work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not sitting hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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