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Quiet Please, Murder

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Introduction

It is bewildering that Quiet Please, Murder isn’t listed in the filmography of any film noir reference book. It was released in 1942, over a year after The Maltese Falcon, which some consider one of the earliest film noirs (along with Stranger on the Third Floor and The Letter, both from 1940). Moreover, if, as I believe, film noir (in both crime films as well as spy films) is underway by the late 1930s in the UK as well as the US, then Quiet Please, Murder was released several years after the advent of film noir. (For my history of spy noirs in the UK and the US dating from the mid-late 1930s, see the UK and US filmographies associated with the page Spy Noirs & the Origins of Film Noir.)

There are murders throughout the film, as well as attempted killings. Slayings are quiet: either by a knife or a pistol with a silencer. In addition to the darkness in the scenes with gunfire, the muffled sound of the shots increases the film’s oneiric atmosphere. There is a femme fatale dressed in black and a private eye in a trench coat. The plot is complicated. Anticipating postwar film noirs, characters speak to each other on the subject of psychoanalysis. And, crucially, in scene after scene there is an excellent noir visual style.

Quiet Please, Murder has many aspects of a crime noir, but it isn’t at all hardboiled. Therefore, despite the prominence of a femme fatale and a private eye, the script undermines rather than substantiates the film noir hardboiled paradigm. For example, instead of the screenplay representing the influence of hardboiled crime fiction, its author, John Larkin, had writing credits for other non-hardboiled detectives, Charlie Chan (five) and the Lone Wolf (one).

The film lacks any key characters in the spy noirs of the Second World War era. There are no spies, fifth columnists or resistance fighters. (For more about these characters, as well as the relationship of spy noirs to film noir, see the page Spy Noirs & the Origins of Film Noir.) Nonetheless, Quiet Please, Murder is included in Paul Mavis’s The Espionage Filmography: United States Releases, 1898 through 1999 (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2001, p. 254). Consequently, I have listed it on the page Spy Noirs, US, from Dan Hodges.

Quiet Please, Murder hasn’t been acknowledged as an early film noir, much less one that is outstanding. Its femme fatale has been overlooked as one of film noir’s most treacherous. Following Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon and Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes in The Voice of Terror, Richard Denning’s Hal McByrne is film noir’s third private detective. (For a critique of the private eye in film noir, see the page The Missing PI in Film Noir.)

Given the film’s unfamiliarity, I provide below a detailed recounting of the plot, including the dialog from several scenes.

Finally, in the Addendum I discuss the social message in Quiet Please, Murder, which is unique among film noirs released during WWII.

Presentation

Director: John Larkin. Screenplay: John Larkin. Producer: Ralph Dietrich. Cinematographer: Joseph MacDonald. Music: Emil Newman. Art Director: Richard Day, Joseph C. Wright. Editor: Louis R. Loeffler. Cast: George Sanders (Jim Fleg, also “Lt. Craven”), Gail Patrick (Myra Blandy), Richard Denning (Hal McByrne), Lynne Roberts (Kay Ryan), Sidney Blackmer (Martin Cleaver), Kurt Katch (Eric Pahsen), Margaret Brayton (Miss Oval), Charles Tannen (Hollis), George Walcott (Benson, uncredited). Released: Twentieth Century Fox, December 21, 1942. 70 minutes.

Using the names of the actors and actresses, the following introductions set up the plot.

George Sanders:

In the opening scene he murders a guard at a city’s public library in order to steal the “Richard Burbage edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” Sanders makes forgeries of the book for sale to people throughout the US who are willing to pay large sums for what they believe is the original “Burbage Hamlet.” (Such an edition never existed, but Burbage, who is considered to be England’s first great stage actor, was the star of Shakespeare’s theater company, and he played the title role in the first performances of many of the Bard’s plays, such as Hamlet, Othello and King Lear. For more about the esteem in which Burbage was held by his contemporaries, see the Postscript below.)

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Later in the film, posing as “Lt. Craven,” Sanders stages an elaborate hoax, with many confederates pretending to be police officers, to steal several other valuable rare books from the same library.

Gail Patrick:

Ostensibly an expert on rare books, she also procures buyers for Sanders’s forgeries. Against Sanders’s instructions, she sells a copy to Blackmer. Although Patrick has not been appreciated for her performance in Quiet Please, Murder — after all, the film has been ignored by film noir historians — her character, Myra Blandy, is one of film noir’s most icy and evil femme fatales. (Sanders calls her “Lady Dracula.”)

Sidney Blackmer:

Sanders tells Patrick that Blackmer is “buying for Goering or Himmler, investing in works of art. Literary rarities, like diamonds, are supposed to be safe in the event of postwar inflation…[He] is a sadist. There’s not an ounce of mercy in him.” Blackmer purchases a fake Hamlet after Patrick tells him it is authentic. (He spends $20,000, but the ever-unscrupulous Patrick, when she gives Sanders $5,000, says Blackmer only paid $7,500.) When Blackmer learns he has been swindled, he demands Patrick set up a meeting for him and Sanders within an hour. Blackmer is accompanied by two assassins, Wolcott and Katch. (Wolcott shoots the bookseller who was in cahoots with Patrick and Sanders.)

Richard Denning:

A private detective, Denning confronts Patrick at her office on behalf of someone else who bought one of Sanders’s forgeries. In return for shielding her from any publicity that would harm (if not end) her business, he asks for Patrick’s help to build a case against Sanders. Patrick writes a check as a retainer. But she is more to Denning than a client; he is immediately infatuated with her. After he asks her out to dinner, he says, “Every instinct tells me I’m a fool, but I’m trusting you because I want to.”

As soon as Denning leaves Patrick, she phones Blackmer and asks him to leave a book in her name at the information desk at a public library (where Sanders stole the Hamlet). She says, “I’ll have Fleg pick it up. That’ll identify him when he asks for it. Oh, by the way he uses the name McBryne. Hal McBryne. He mustn’t know about me.”

Next, Patrick visits Sanders and tells him that after her dinner date, Denning has “an appointment at the public library.” Sanders decides to kill “two birds with one stone.” Not only will he take care of Denning, he will also rob the library of some more rare books.

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After their dinner, Patrick allows Denning to romance her a little during a cab ride. He says her eyes “mean trouble,” but he likes trouble. He puts his arm around her head and tries to kiss her. Before he can, she complains, “Be careful. That’s a new hat.” He says, “What a crack to make at a time like this.” (Denning will bring up the hat incident close to the end of the film.) When the taxi reaches the public library, she asks him to go in and get a book at the information desk that is on hold in her name.

Before Denning can ask the librarian, Lynne Roberts, for Patrick’s book, Sanders himself butts in and loudly identifies himself to Roberts as “Lieutenant Craven, homicide squad.” Sanders heads off “to get a good murder mystery, plenty of blood,” which is an apt description of Quiet Please, Murder.

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Blackmer is already waiting near the information desk. Based on the lie Patrick told him, when Blackmer hears Denning give his name to Roberts, he thinks the man is Sanders. Blackmer, addressing Denning as “Fleg,” takes Denning to one of the library’s rooms to have a talk “about certain literary forgeries.” Unseen, Patrick enters the library.

Each of the three men (Blackmer, Denning and Sanders) has never seen the other two before. And only Patrick knows that they are all in the library at this time.

Blackmer insists on calling Denning “Fleg” and having Denning repay the money Blackmer spent on the fake Hamlet. Denning, of course, denies that he is Fleg. Acting on Sanders’s plan to murder Denning, Sanders’s “bodyguard” (Tannen) comes up to Blackmer and Denning and says that he has a note for “McBryne.” Since Blackmer refuses to believe that Denning is McBryne, he takes the piece of paper, reads it and goes off with Tannen, leaving Denning behind with one of Blackmer’s two assassins (Walcott).

As Blackmer walks by his other assassin (Katch), Blackmer hands him the note. It says, “Must see you at once. Reading room balcony. Myra.” Given Sanders’s forgery skills, the handwriting looks feminine. The note is meant to draw Denning to an isolated location, where Tannen will kill him. Instead, Tannen stabs Blackmer. Before he dies, he staggers to a railing and tumbles over it onto a lower level. Several people witness his fall, including Katch, who, because of the message, assumes Patrick is responsible for Blackmer’s murder.

Denning, who has slugged and gotten away from Walcott, comes upon Blackmer’s corpse just before Sanders.

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Sanders orders the library to be locked up. He is surprised when Denning introduces himself, having thought the detective would be the dead man. Then he is stunned when Denning tells him the murder victim is Blackmer, since Sanders had no idea Blackmer would be in the library.

Patrick realizes she should get out of the building, but it is too late for anyone to leave. When Sanders sees her, he knows it was she who arranged for both Blackmer and McByrne to be there. He warns her against making even one careless move. She responds, “I never make any.”

Sanders tells Tannen, “Nail McByrne first chance you get. He’s still with us.”

Denning also sees Patrick. Their exchange is the quintessence of one between a femme fatale and her dupe.

He says to her, “Some nut [i.e., Blackmer] mistook me for Fleg. Was he going to be here tonight? [Denning doesn’t know that Lt. Craven is, in fact, Fleg.]

She replies, “I wouldn’t know. Don’t you believe me?”

“Sure, beautiful. Why shouldn’t I?”

“You didn’t tell the police I know Fleg?”

“Just keep your mouth shut and let me handle this. You hired me and you’re going to get service. You ever have a funny feeling you walked right into something? Mine says there’s a bullet looking for me. Keep your eyes open. I need a pal.

Patrick warmly smiles at Denning as he leaves her.

Sanders executes his plan to steal five valuable rare books. However, Denning has become suspicious about Sanders being a real police officer. When Sanders isn’t looking, Denning picks up the books and puts them on a book cart. Patrick sees what Denning has done, removes the books from the cart and hides them in the stacks.

Denning’s real “pal” is the librarian, Roberts.

He tells her he has a hunch. “[W]hat’s going on now [i.e., Sanders’s interest in the rare books] is tied up with that Hamlet job.”

She asks, “You think whoever killed that guard….”

“Is in the building again? Maybe.”

After he placed the rare books on a cart, Denning knows a library worker moved the cart somewhere into the stacks, based on the code number for the cart. He asks Roberts to show him where the cart was supposed to go. As they walk among the bookshelves, she explains the Dewey decimal system to him. (This casual conversation later enables Denning to figure out where Patrick hid the books.)

He tries flirting with her, “You ever try using that concentration on something that wears pants and smokes a cigar.”

Roberts is cordial, but firm, “Uh-huh. We’re getting married when the army’s through with him.”

“You know I wish I’d met you before noon today.”

“Why?”

“I wouldn’t have fallen for somebody else [i.e., Patrick].”

“You couldn’t compete with my army man.”

When they locate the cart, the rare books are missing. Patrick, hidden in shadows, has been watching Denning and Roberts. After Roberts returns to work, Patrick steps out of the stacks. She tells Denning more lies.

“[I’ve been] looking for you, darling. I have to tell you something. Craven, he’s Fleg…I was afraid to tell you before, but I want to play square with you…Don’t let on you know. Now’s your chance to get him. Mac, you do believe me?”

“Oh, I want to beautiful.” Denning takes Patrick in his arms.

Patrick goes off, and Tannen, saying that he is Craven, calls down to Denning from an upper floor in the stacks. When Denning reaches the top of the stairs, Tannen slugs him. Tannen is about to stab Denning when Sanders, shrouded in darkness, orders him not to because he thinks Denning knows where the rare books are. Before he leaves, Sanders tells Tannen to wake Denning up and then work him over until he says what he did with the books.

Elsewhere in the library one of Blackmer’s assassins (Walcott) tells the other (Katch) to find Patrick and kill her. Katch shows Walcott a small, thin rope with a noose — which he can use to strangle Patrick.

Denning gets the upper hand on Tannen, breaks free from him and runs off into the stacks. He makes it into a room, locks the door and discovers Katch is there. Getting the upper hand of Katch, Denning searches through Katch’s wallet, where he finds the note signed “Myra.” Since Katch is a mute, Denning can’t question him. As the two men leave the room, the camera shows Katch’s noose lying on the floor.

In another room Denning comes upon Patrick. Now he has a different view of her.

He says, “I figure it like this. After Cleaver [Blackmer] put the screws on, you ran into me. I was yelling Hamlet, too. Cleaver used a gun, I used a jailhouse [i.e., before Denning accepted a retainer from Patrick, he had threatened to go to the District Attorney with what he knew about her involvement in selling Sanders’s forgeries]. You were on a spot.”

“I know what you’re thinking, Mac, and you’re wrong.”

“Am I? You played me off against Cleaver. You told him the guy who’d come to pick up a book would be Fleg. You knew he’d have his way or kill. [Patrick shakes her head and says, “No.”] Somewhere along the line you also told Fleg that I was Mr. Trouble. He said he’d take care of me, right?”

“Mac, you’re so wrong.”

“Beautiful, you wouldn’t be you if you weren’t lying. You knew I’d walk in here tonight with two men laying for me. Fleg sent a note, using your name, to get me up on that balcony. [Denning hands Patrick the note he took from Katch’s wallet.] He needed a body to stage a fake police investigation. And I was elected. And you knew it. [Patrick again denies it.] Anyway, Cleaver went instead and got stuck with Hollis’s [i.e., Tannen’s] knife. And all the time you were my pal!”

After a little sweet talk, Patrick says, “You won’t believe that, but it’s true.”

“I can try.” And they kiss. Then Denning says, “You kind of took a shot at me before. I had no hard feelings. Because you’re what I like.”

“You can trust me.”

“Well, I don’t expect you to play straight. I just want you to be around and in the clear when this is all over. We can have some fun.”

Her handbag falls on the floor, and its contents spill out. Denning picks the stuff up, and he sees a note, “See 31 – 9:30.” Patrick says it is a reminder of an appointment she has at 9:30 the following morning at a bookstore on 31st Street.

Roberts rushes into the room to tell Denning she has realized, “Those policemen, they’re fakes. I heard them talking. They stole the books.”

Denning, as he is about to climb out a window to leave the library and get help, says, “Myra, keep an eye on the kid. There’s a guy in the army writing letters to her. Gotta do our bit.”

Roberts walks off, and Sanders comes up to Patrick. He asks her where Denning is, and she lies that she doesn’t know.

He says, “You have fallen for him.”

“Don’t be silly. I delivered him to you, didn’t I?”

They see Denning being brought back into the library. (His escape to get help failed.)

Sanders asks Patrick, “Does he know about me?” She nods to confirm.

“And that little librarian, maybe she knows, too.” She nods her head again.

“That all I want to know.”

Sanders sends Roberts into the stacks for a book.

He says to Tannen, “Hollis, the girl [i.e., kill her].”

Denning protests, “Let her alone, Fleg. Call that man off. That girl can’t hurt you.”

“No, but she can spoil my set-up since she knows things that you know.”

At that moment there is an air raid drill. Everyone in the library goes to the shelter in the basement, and the building’s lights are turned off to comply with a citywide blackout. As Sanders and his men head toward the shelter in the darkness, Denning slugs one of the phony cops, grabs his pistol and gets away.

The following scene, in terms of its noir visual style and dramatic intensity, is one of the finest in the early years of film noir.

Roberts hears Tannen’s footsteps and senses she is in great danger. In the darkness of the stacks, she runs, taking off her shoes to move as silently as possible. She goes up a stairway to the next level and continues her flight. When she reaches the end of the last aisle, she finds both of the doors to other rooms are locked. Tannen closes in, not with a knife but a gun. She sees him and, as he steps up to her, she screams and faints.

Denning hears Roberts’s scream and calls to her. Leaving Roberts, Tannen double backs toward Denning. When Tannen sees Denning’s flashlight on the stairway, he fires. Denning falls to the floor at bottom of the stairs. His flashlight is still on and is pointed up at Tannen as he descends a couple of steps. Suddenly Denning opens his eyes and shoots Tannen dead.

Denning finds Roberts unconscious, revives her and shoots at one of the locked doors in order to open it. Sanders hears the shot, and he catches up with them. Patrick has come with Sanders, but he tells her to stand next to them because, like Roberts, she knows too much. In the darkness of the room, to indicate what will happen if Denning doesn’t turn over the rare books, Sanders has some candlelight shine on Walcott’s corpse, lying nearby on the floor.

But Denning is quite clever. He tricks Sanders into letting him to make an inter-office phone call. The library’s air raid warden answers the phone, and he hears Denning say, “All clear.” Sanders thinks this is the signal for someone to bring Denning the rare books. Instead, the message is interpreted that the air raid drill is over, so all the lights in the building are turned on. However, since the blackout is actually still in effect, real police rush into the library to have the lights shut back off. That gives Denning the opportunity to tell them to arrest Sanders and everyone in his gang.

The police search Fleg’s apartment, find the original Burbage Hamlet and return it to the library. It is 3:00 AM, just over six hours since Denning came into the library.

One by one the police release everyone. Because the cops have no reason to be suspicious of Katch, he is sent outside, too.

In a room with books cataloged in the 900s, Denning tells Patrick that he kept her association with Sanders a secret from the police.

He says, “When I protect a client, I protect him. You’re in the clear.” She steps forward to kiss him, but he backs way. She senses his abrupt coldness.

“Something’s wrong. What is it?”

“Where are those five books you lifted off that stack wagon?” (She doesn’t answer.) “Don’t give me that. You’ve got ‘em and you let Fleg gun for me thinking I had ‘em.”

“You’re out of your mind.”

“Stop acting. You tried to play me off against Fleg. And why not? I was a lucky guy. I might knock off Fleg. That’d make you top man in the racket. A swell set-up. And you’re made of ice.” He tears up her check that was his retainer. (Now she is no longer his client.) “I kept my end of the bargain [i.e., keeping her in the clear]. You’re not in the Fleg case so far, but from right now you’re on your own.”

“You’ve got to listen to me.”

“Where are those books?”

“I don’t know.”

He reaches into her pocketbook and removes the paper with her handwriting, “See 31 – 9:30.” He searches the stacks until he finds the five books on the shelf at C31-930.

“You sure had a date in the morning, with 150 grand.”

“You going to blame a girl for trying? I’d have told you.”

“In a pig’s eye. Look beautiful, nothing ties you to the killings tonight – no proof – but I’m going to nail you for the Hamlet forgery.”

“Revenge?”

“No. To teach you a lesson. You had me going for a while, but a man doesn’t mean a thing to you. You live for little Myra and nobody else. And you’ll always be that way.”

“Mac, what you said was true until you came along.”

“Don’t hand me that. Any dame who worries about her hat in a taxi. That was the tip-off to me, but I didn’t want to believe it.”

“Mac, I love you. It’s the first time I’ve been able to say it to any man.”

“Ah, lay off. You’ve yelled ‘wolf’ too many times. I wanted to give you a break, but you tried to destroy Kay [Roberts], that innocent kid. You were the only one who knew she’d spotted Fleg, and you tried to tip him off about her.”

“I couldn’t help it. I was jealous.”

“You? No. You wanted to convince Fleg you were on his side, and that was your big mistake, sister.”

“You were falling for her.”

“No, she doesn’t mean a thing to me, only what she stands for. She’s waiting for some guy in the army. But you wouldn’t get it. There are thousands like Kay, and a lot of guys in the army counting on them, daydreaming about things after the war. Her useless death would have hurt him. Ah, maybe I’m a sentimental slob, but I don’t buy that [i.e., that Patrick is in love with him]. Thanks for the buggy ride.”

Holding the five books, Denning leaves Patrick behind in the room and steps into the lobby. Immediately, a plainclothes policeman comes up, takes the books and says that Denning must have known all along where they were. Still keeping Patrick in the clear, Denning gives the policeman Patrick’s memo with the shelf location and says, “I found this on Fleg and figured it out all by myself.”

The policeman goes off, and Patrick enters the lobby. She begs Denning to see her home. He refuses. She says, “Cleaver’s men are out there, and they know what happened [i.e., that she sold Blackmer a fake Hamlet]. They’ll kill me.”

Denning replies, “Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. People who do business with Hitler’s mob know the payoff. Go ask the cops to take you home.”

“Oh, Mac, don’t desert me now.”

“I’m sick of your lying.”

“I’m not lying. I tell you I’m terrified.”

Denning goes into another room. As in the scene in the stacks when Tannen hunts Roberts, the following episode has outstanding noir visual style.

Patrick walks through the dark, empty lobby to the front door. She steps outside. It is still night, and the streets are deserted. As though it is within her mind, we hear a voice-over from Blackmer that repeats his warning to her earlier in the film, “I do not work alone.” Moments later there is a voice-over from Sanders of his own previous warning, “My dear, we all set in motion the means of our own destruction.”

A cop tells her a taxi stand is four blocks away. She starts walking. Katch emerges from shadows near the library entrance. The cop ignores Katch when he goes in the same direction as Patrick. At first she is unaware Katch is closing in. Hearing his footsteps, she looks back and sees him. She walks faster.

There is a cut to the front of the library. Two plainclothes policemen ask the cop which way Katch went because they have just discovered he was one of Blackmer’s gunmen. They drive off in a patrol car to find him. There is a cut to Katch, who is standing up in a pitch-black alley and putting a knife in a pocket of his overcoat. As he comes out of the alley, the police spot him. After they grab him, they see Patrick’s corpse.

The ending of the film is bittersweet.

Before Denning leaves the building, Roberts approaches him with a big smile.

“Hello,” she says. “Can you tell me all about it now? I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.”

He replies sharply, “And put poison in it?” She looks down, crestfallen. He realizes his error. “I’m sorry. I guess you’re not all alike [i.e., all women], but right now I’m not very good company.”

When Denning steps away from her, he notices one of Patrick’s gloves on the floor. He picks it up. Roberts says, “She was involved somehow, wasn’t she? You liked her, too.”

Denning comes back to Roberts. Comparing Patrick to a lost cat, he says that, although he could have done without her, he had to have her.

He pockets the glove and says, “Come on. I’ll buy the coffee.” He turns around and walks to the front door, and she comes up next to him and takes his arm. They leave the library together.

Addendum

There are several other scenes that are of interest. In three of them Sanders delves into his brand of psychoanalysis that people have a secret desire to be hurt, a subconscious wish for “punishment.” (One is when Patrick visits Sanders before her date with Denning; another is before Sanders shows Walcott’s dead body to Denning, Patrick and Roberts; and the last is after Sanders has been arrested and he is staring at his handcuffs.) Also, there are instances in which Denning, as well as the real police, show how mercenary they are regarding their claims for reward money from the library after the original Burbage Hamlet and the other five rare books are returned.

The ending of Quiet Please, Murder underscores the film’s unique social message. Lynne Roberts’s character, Kay Ryan, is not only a single young woman with a job, she also has a fiancé fighting in the war. I am not aware of any other film noir released during WWII that emphasizes either as strongly or as consistently that men overseas could trust their women at home to remain faithful. 

When Roberts and Denning first run into each other in the library, he is going to the information desk to pick up Patrick’s book, and she is some distance away coming down a staircase. Mistaking Denning by his apparent physical resemblance to her boyfriend, Roberts calls out to him as “Johnny.” Once she realizes her error, for the rest of the film she maintains a warm but professional demeanor with Denning.

Both Roberts and Patrick have jobs, but the ways in which they earn a living are suggestive of the differences in their characters. Patrick is a private business owner. Whether appraising and selling legitimate rare books or colluding with Sanders to market his forgeries, her clients are wealthy connoisseurs. The books they purchase from Patrick are considered art objects or, as for Blackmer, investments. In other words, these books aren’t to be read for entertainment or education.

Roberts, on the other hand, is a public worker. She is one of a large number of employees at a government institution, the city library, where books are borrowed, not bought, and they are read and returned, not collected and hoarded. Patrick, working with Sanders, fleeces her elite clients. Fulfilling the mission of a public library, Roberts serves people from all walks of life. In fact, there is a connection between Roberts and her fiancé, Johnny. As a soldier, he is also on the government payroll. His role is to protect America’s democracy, which is represented in the film by the library. For example, the effort by the library staff to comply with the blackout (e.g., keeping the lights shut off and sending everyone in the building downstairs to a shelter) shows how they – as a stand-in for the American home front in general – successfully carry out wartime responsibilities. In other words, like members of the armed forces, those in the library’s workforce cooperate together; they have one another’s back. Patrick and Sanders not only deceive the buyers of fake Hamlets, each of them betrays the other’s life.

Above, I have quoted the scene near the end of the film when Denning, after he tells Patrick he is finished with her, contrasts the always disloyal and dishonest Patrick with the ever-loyal and honest Roberts. Denning finds Patrick so unwaveringly black-hearted that he ends up tarring Roberts (i.e., all women) with the brush of Patrick’s poisonous selfishness. When he sees Patrick’s glove, he comes to his senses and acknowledges that not all women are bad, even if the one he wanted was.

Because Roberts’s interactions with Denning are mature, not cloying, Quiet Please, Murder admirably conveys its social message that men in combat can rest easy about women’s sexual behavior on the home front. Furthermore, Roberts isn’t a goody two-shoes. On the contrary, she is smart and self-reliant. She figures out by herself that Sanders is an impostor and a criminal. Also, she nearly escapes on her own from Tannen when he pursues her to kill her.

It is notable that this wartime film ends with two characters whose lives are so dissimilar: one that is about teamwork and the other about individualism. Roberts is twice associated with a group, her coworkers at the library and her fiancé in the army. She is, therefore, a positive character, and it is no surprise that she has moxie and is true to her man. Denning is doubly linked to a loner, himself (a private eye) and Patrick (nobody’s partner, in business or romance). When the film was released in late 1942, individualism was a negative trait. For example, Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine in Casablanca, which was released at almost the same time as Quiet Please, Murder, won’t stick his neck out for anybody. He has to undergo conversion to be willing to fight fascism. In short, Bogart has to shift from Denning’s individualism to Roberts’s teamwork. These distinctions between Denning and Roberts foreshadow what we can imagine will occur after the film is over. Roberts will continue to hold Denning’s arm until they find an all-night cafe. They will have some coffee and talk, then go their separate ways. She will be looking forward to her Johnny’s return, and — so noir! — Denning will be looking back on the femme fatale he couldn’t resist falling for and can never forget. Roberts has a future with her fiancé, and Denning has nothing and no one.

Postscript

As with the overwhelming majority of private eye film noirs released from 1941 to 1947 (i.e., 12 of 17), Hal McBryne isn’t a hardboiled detective. Quiet Please, Murder is another of many examples of the failure of the film noir hardboiled paradigm either to accurately describe the kind of PI most often found in film noirs (i.e., he isn’t hardboiled) or to legitimately relate hardboiled crime fiction with film noir. See the page The Not Hardboiled PI in Film Noir.

Myra Landry is the client of Hal McBryne. Since she tries to get McBryne murdered, Landry is a “killer client.” See the page The Killer Client & the PI.

In contrast to Hal McByrne, in postwar film noirs with a private eye, the detective frequently doesn’t wind up alone but instead gets a girlfriend. See the page The Sweetheart & the PI.

For more about “conversion” in US spy noirs during the Second World War era, such as Casablanca, see the section “Converted to the Allied Cause” in the page Spy Noirs & the Origins of Film Noir.

A postwar film noir, The Unfaithful (1947), takes a very different view than Quiet Please, Murder about how women at home during WWII behaved sexually while their husbands were abroad in battle. See the page The Unfaithful.

Regarding Richard Burbage, in The New York Review of Books (April 21, 2016), Shakespearian scholar Stephen Greenblatt opens his essay, “How Shakespeare Lives Now,” with the significant contrast in contemporary reactions to the deaths of the Bard himself and his first great interpreter. (Greenblatt is the editor of the The Norton Shakespeare and his most popular work is Will in the World, a biography of Shakespeare. He won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2012 and the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2011 for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.)

“Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616, went largely unremarked by all but a few of his immediate contemporaries. There was no global shudder when his mortal remains were laid to rest in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. No one proposed that he be interred in Westminster Abbey near Chaucer or Spenser (where his fellow playwright Francis Beaumont was buried in the same year and where Ben Jonson would be buried some years later). No notice of Shakespeare’s passing was taken in the diplomatic correspondence of the time or in the newsletters that circulated on the Continent; no rush of Latin obsequies lamented the “vanishing of his breath,” as classical elegies would have it; no tributes were paid to his genius by his distinguished European contemporaries. Shakespeare’s passing was an entirely local English event, and even locally it seems scarcely to have been noted.

“The death of the famous actor Richard Burbage in 1619 excited an immediate and far more widespread outburst of grief. England had clearly lost a great man. “He’s gone,” lamented at once an anonymous elegist,

and, with him, what a world are dead,
Which he revived, to be revivèd so
No more: young Hamlet, old Hieronimo,
Kind Lear, the grievèd Moor, and more beside
That lived in him have now for ever died.

“William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, was so stricken by the actor’s death that months later he could not bring himself to go to the playhouse ‘so soon after the loss of my acquaintance Burbage.’ It was this death that was publicly marked by him and by his contemporaries, far more than the vanishing of the scribbler who had penned the words that Burbage had so memorably brought alive.

“The elegy on Burbage suggests that for some and perhaps even most of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, the real ‘life’ of the characters and their plays lay not in the texts but in the performances of those texts. The words on the page were dead letters until they were ‘revived’ by the gifted actor. This belief should hardly surprise us, since it is the way most audiences currently respond to plays and, still more, to film.”