Cast & Crew
When crooked businessman J. Spencer Halford is murdered, New York Daily Star crack reporter Steve Grey, known as the "Murder Man" because of his expertise in reporting on homicide cases, is put on the story. With Steve's help, police investigators determine that Halford was shot by a bullet fired from a shooting gallery located across the street from Halford's office. Steve demonstrates his theory to the investigators and suggests that Henry Mander, Halford's equally crooked partner, committed the crime in order to collect on Halford's life insurance policy. Having put forth his seemingly air-tight case against Mander, Steve pays a visit to his father, "Pop" Grey. Pop warns his son to stay away from his estranged wife Dorothy, because she mistreated him, but Steve tells him that Dorothy recently committed suicide.
At Mander's trial, a ballistics expert testifies that the rifle used to kill Halford was indentical to the one found at the shooting gallery. Mander, who is unable to come up with an alibi, is further doomed by the testimony of his secretary, who tells investigators that her boss left the office to go to the gallery on the afternoon of Halford's murder. Steve's testimony, in which he tells of great financial losses incurred by his father as a result of Mander and Halpern's investment fraud, helps bring a swift murder conviction upon Mander. Though Mander is sentenced to death for the crime, Steve appears unhappy with the conviction. Hoping to cure his depression, Mary Shannon, Steve's sweetheart and an advice columnist at the newspaper, suggests that he take a vacation to ease his nerves. While resting in the country, the troubled Steve is visited by fellow newspaperman "Shorty," who has been sent to convince him to conduct Mander's deathhouse interview for the Star . Steve ignores Mary's pleas not to take the assignment, and goes to Sing Sing to interview Mander. In a private meeting with the convict, Steve tells Mander that he knows he did not commit the crime.
When Steve returns to the paper, he writes up the interview, but is frustrated and tears it up. He then tells newspaper editor Robins that he cannot write the article, but Robins orders him to do it. Steve angrily promises Robins a "great story," and instead of writing up the interview, he records a confession to Halford's murder. In the confession, he admits to murdering Halford to avenge his father, who was robbed of his life's savings by the man, and his wife, who killed herself over Halford's spurned affections. Mary, the first to discover Steve's recorded confession, weeps, and then tries to destroy the tape before it can be made public. Her attempt to cover up for her sweetheart proves futile, however, because Steve turns himself in to the police captain in charge of the murder investigation. Before being led away by the authorities, Steve explains how he cleverly pinned the murder on the victim's business partner. He then calls Robins with the biggest story of the day.
William Collier Sr.
William Norton Bailey
Charles E. Delaney
James P. Burtis
Howard C. Hickman
Theodor Von Eltz
Dr. William Axt
John C. Higgins
James E. Newcom
Edwin B. Willis
The Murder Man
The Murder Man is a brisk B-movie, remembered not only as James Stewart's debut but as Spencer Tracy's first film under his MGM contract. A year earlier, Tracy had appeared in an MGM picture called The Show-Off on a loanout from Fox. MGM production chief Irving Thalberg liked what he saw and signed the 35-year-old actor to a new contract. Tracy's first MGM film was to be Riffraff (1936), opposite Jean Harlow. But when that picture was temporarily postponed, the studio put Tracy to work immediately on The Murder Man, a modest programmer shot in three weeks.
In it, Tracy plays a rugged, slap-happy newspaper reporter who specializes in homicide cases and is so good at his work that he routinely solves cases before the cops can. When two crooked financiers ruin Tracy's father and cause the suicide of his estranged wife, Tracy plans the perfect crime as his revenge. It was a solid beginning for Tracy at MGM - he would remain at the studio for 20 years.
As for Stewart, when he arrived from New York on the MGM lot, The Murder Man was already in production, though his role - a cub reporter named "Shorty" - had not yet been cast. Given Stewart's 6'3", 138-pound frame, the part was an obvious sight gag. Producer Harry Rapf first rejected the idea (he wanted a dwarf for the role), but eventually MGM casting director Bill Grady made Rapf see the humor of it. And so Stewart made his debut as a gangling, enthusiastic young newshound with an inappropriate nickname.
Stewart later recalled, "I signed a contract with MGM without even looking at it - it was impossible to read. The contract was for three months. I found out later that it was one of those contracts with an option for a further three months and so on. In other words, they got you for life. Mine was terminated by the war. Not that I wanted to get away. It was great fun." (Actually, the maximum length of the contract was for seven years.)
Stewart and Tracy began a lifelong friendship on this set, and Tracy offered Stewart his first film acting advice. "I told him to forget the camera was there," said Tracy. "That was all he needed. In his very first scene he showed he had all the good things."
It would be three months before Stewart was assigned another film at MGM. To fill the time, the studio had him hit the gym. But Stewart also found time to take flying lessons. He learned to fly solo and later used to fly to his home in Pennsylvania, following railroad tracks as navigation.
Producer: Harry Rapf
Director: Tim Whelan
Screenplay: Tim Whelan, Guy Bolton (story), John C. Higgins
Cinematography: Lester White
Film Editing: James E. Newcom
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: William Axt
Cast: Spencer Tracy (Steve Grey), Virginia Bruce (Mary Shannon), Lionel Atwill (Police Capt. Cole), Harvey Stephens (Henry Mander), Robert Barrat (Hal Robins).
BW-69m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold
The Murder Man
'Stewart, James' spoke his first movie line in this film--it was "Hi Joe."
Robert Benchley and Frank Mayo are in studio cast lists but are not in the released print.
This picture marked the screen debut of James Stewart. A Hollywood Reporter pre-production article notes that the Hays Office initially rejected the story because its theme concerned murder for revenge. Hollywood Reporter production charts and pre-production news items list actors Frank Mayo, Robert Benchley and Charles Trowbridge in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. The film was briefly tiled Crooked Alibi before its release, and was Tim Whelan's first picture for M-G-M.