Cast & Crew
As Hammond shows a prospective tenant a house in London, the two men discuss the murder that was committed by its former occupant, Willie Marble, and wonder what the walls would say if only they could talk: The Marbles are overwhelmed by debts, and Willie will lose his job in the foreign exchange department of a bank if he doesn't settle a suit brought against him. He hears about a potentially lucrative speculation in the French franc, but hasn't the money to invest in it. When his nephew, James Medland, suddenly arrives from Australia, Willie hopes that the young man's obvious wealth will help him, but James is neither interested in investments nor in giving Willie a loan. Willie then laces James's drink with cyanide that he keeps for his photographic hobby, and steals the money from James's wallet. After burying the body in the backyard, Willie is haunted by it and even his making £30,000 on the franc speculation does not calm him. He sends his wife Annie and daughter Winnie on a holiday and stays home, reading about poisons. He begins an affair Mme. Rita Collins, who owns a local dress shop, but stops when Winnie finds out as she and her mother return a day early from their holiday. Annie soon realizes what Willie has done. Rather than turning him in, her understanding seems to ease Willie's conscience. Their life is peaceful for a while, but when Winnie tells her mother about Willie's affair and decides to stay with some upper-class friends instead of remaining at home, Annie rushes after her in a storm and becomes very ill. One day, Rita comes to the door and demands that Willie pay her five hundred pounds. Willie wants her to leave, but their voices are heard by Annie, who sneaks downstairs. Seeing Willie give Rita the money, Annie assumes that their affair is still going on and decides to kill herself. She then puts poison in her glass of orange juice and becomes gravely ill. When she dies, the doctor discovers that she has been poisoned and assumes that Willie has murdered her. Willie is then condemned to death for Annie's murder. As he is about to be hanged, a remorseful Winnie visits him, blaming herself for Annie's death. Willie, however, says that he is simply making a delayed payment for what he did in the past.
Laughton plays Willie Marble, a financially troubled, seemingly timid London bank clerk who sees a visit by his wealthy Australian nephew James (Milland) as an opportunity to clear the debts that are overwhelming him. When James fails to offer any relief, Willie laces the younger man's drink with cyanide, takes what money he has on him and buries him in the back yard. He invests the money shrewdly and becomes wealthy, but his life unravels as he deserts his wife, Annie (Dorothy Peterson) and takes up with a seductive dress-shop owner (Verree Teasdale). In plot developments involving his daughter (Maureen O'Sullivan), Willie faces a "payment deferred" that has nothing to do with money.
Laughton biographer Simon Callow wrote of the star's work in Payment Deferred that "The essential grammar of all Laughton's subsequent performances is there: the heavy lids, the sense of barely contained energy, the sexual voluptuousness a millimetre below the surface, the sudden accelerandos and heart-stopping ritarandos."
Milland, in one of his first sizeable roles under an MGM contract that had begun the previous year, may have been rattled by Laughton's virtuoso ability. Although he later became a remarkably relaxed and assured performer, Milland was deemed so "nervous" by Payment Deferred director Lothar Mendes that the studio decided to drop him. The Welsh-born actor returned to his native Britain for a couple of films before deciding to give Hollywood another try and winning a new contract -- and eventual stardom -- at Paramount.
In an interesting side note to Payment Deferred, it was reported in The Boston Post that a fire captain who killed himself in March 1933 in Peabody, Mass., had been inspired by the movie to use cyanide as his means of suicide, although a local police chief deemed this report "ridiculous." At the time of the film's release, the Hays Office had warned MGM that some areas would not allow the mention of a specific poison as a means of murder. Indeed, some theaters refused to show the film until the references to cyanide were removed. For a 1939 re-release, the Hays Office insisted upon five dialogue cuts to remove what it considered to be "suggestive remarks."
Producer: Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
Director: Lothar Mendes
Screenplay: Ernest Vajda, Claudine West, from play by Jeffrey F. Dell and novel by C.S. Forester
Cinematography: Merritt B. Gerstad
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: William Axt (uncredited)
Editing: Frank Sullivan
Costume Design: Adrian (uncredited)
Principal Cast: Charles Laughton (William "Willie" Marble), Maureen O'Sullivan (Winnie Marble), Dorothy Peterson (Annie Marble), Verree Teasdale (Madame Marguerite "Rita" Collins), Ray Milland (James "Jim" Colville Medland), Billy Bevan (Charlie Hammond).
by Roger Fristoe
The play opened on Broadway in New York City, New York on 30 September 1931 and ran for 70 performances. Charles Laughton originated the role of William Marble. Also in the cast were Elsa Lanchester and Lionel Pape. 5 dialogue cuts to remove suggestive remarks were made for the 1939 re-release. Some censors eliminated references to cyanide before allowing the showing of the movie.
Jeffrey F. Dell's play was based on C. S. Forrester's novel of the same name (London, 1926). Charles Laughton recreated his role from the Broadway stage play. Although Hollywood Reporter production charts and some reviews include Neil Hamilton in the cast, portraying "Gordon Holmes," he was not in the viewed print or in credits in the cutting continuity for the film contained in copyright records. According to information in reviews and MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the "Holmes" character was a young professor in love with the Winnie Marble character and wanted her to come with him to Canada. "Holmes" was not in the novel or play, and it has not been determined at what point Hamilton's character was cut from the film. According to the PCA file, M-G-M re-issued the film in 1939 and received a certificate after five cuts were made in the dialogue to remove suggestive remarks. Other information in the file notes that M-G-M had been considering a new adaptation of the story in 1945, however, it was never made. According to letters in the file that reproduced news items, in March 1933, a fire captain named William J. Costello committed suicide in Peabody, MA using cyanide that his wife had purchased to kill rodents a few days previously. Variety and The Boston Post both reported that the means of Costello's suicide was inspired by the M-G-M movie. Correspondence in the file, however, indicates that Police Chief Edward F. Pierce of Peabody called the implication "ridiculous" when contacted by Carleton Simon of the Hays Office. Previous to the release of the film, the Hays Office had warned M-G-M that many territories would not allow the description of a specific poison such as cyanide. Some territories did, in fact, require the elimination of references to cyanide before the film could be exhibited.