Monday, August 18, 2014

The best way to commit a murder

Very much related to the last post: Alfred Hitchcock's film Shadow of a Doubt includes two characters who are readers of that kind of mystery popular in the middle of the twentieth century: the protagonist's father Joseph Newton and his good friend Herbie Hawkins. They often meet to discuss the stories they have recently read and their own arguments about how to carry out the perfect murder:
Herbie: Say, ha-have you read this one? Huh? That little Frenchman beats them all. You can talk all you like about Sherlock Holmes. That little Frenchman beats 'em all.
Joseph Newton: I read it. Air bubbles don't necessarily kill a person. Those writers from the other side get too fancy. — The best way to commit a murder—
Herbie: — I know, I know. Hit 'em on the head with a blunt instrument.
Newton: Well, it's true, isn't it? Listen, If I wanted to murder you tomorrow, do you think I'd waste my time on fancy hypodermics? — Or on Inee?
Herbie: — What's that?
Newton: — Inee. Indian arrow poison.
Herbie: — Oh.
Newton: Listen, I'd find out if you were alone, walk in, hit you on the head with a piece of lead pipe or a loaded cane —
Herbie: What'd be the fun of that? Where's your planning? Where's your clues?
Newton: I don't want any clues. I want to murder you. What do I want with clues?
Herbie: Well, if you haven't got any clues, where's your book?
Newton: I'm not talkin' 'bout writing books. I'm talking about killing you!
Herbie: If I was going to kill you, I wouldn't do a dumb thing like hitting you on the head. First of all, I don't like the fingerprint angle. Of course, I could always wear gloves, press your hands against the pipe after you were dead and make you look like a suicide.
Newton: But you wouldn't beat yourself to death.
Herbie: I'd do it so it didn't look like murder. ....
And, in a later conversation:
Newton: What were we saying, Herb? Did I notice what?
Herbie: Well, did you taste anything funny about that coffee you had at my house this evening?
Newton: No. It tasted all right.
Herbie: That's what I mean. It wasn't all right.
Newton: — Put something in it?
Herbie: — Put a little soda. About the same amount that I'd have used if I'd wanted to use poison.
Newton: Well, you don't say? I never tasted a thing. Of course, I might not notice the soda.
Herbie: You'd notice the soda more than you would the poison. (Scoffs) For all you knew, you might just as well be dead now. ....