The Perfect Murder Review

It may be The Perfect Murder, in the sense that the victim is a Mr Perfect. But he isn’t actually dead, just hit on the head in an attempted break-in at the house of his rich employer. On the case is Inspector Ghote (Naseeruddin Shah), who is partnered with Axel Svenssen (Stellan Skarsgard), a Swedish criminologist seconded to Bombay to study local police methods…

The Perfect Murder bears no relation to the Michael Douglas/Gwyneth Paltrow thriller of a decade later, which is actually a remake of Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. It’s an adaptation of one of a series of crime novels written by H.R.F. Keating about Bombay-based Inspector Ghote. The film is one of the handful of Merchant Ivory productions that were not directed by Ivory or Merchant. Merchant is credited as executive producer here: with the aid of his brother in law Wahid Chowhan, he set up a company to make low-budget films in India, of which this was to be the first. Merchant also secured the rights to Keating’s novel and hired as director the documentary-maker Zafar Hai, who co-wrote the screenplay with Keating. The director of photography was Walter Lassally and the score was by Richard Robbins, both Merchant Ivory veterans, and longtime friend of the company Madhur Jaffrey took a leading role.

The film is at best a minor entry in the Merchant Ivory filmography. It looked quite old-fashioned on its limited British cinema release in 1988, even more so now. It’s an odd combination of old-school crime thriller mixed with buddy comedy and moments of slapstick. However, it’s none too well paced and seems rather longer than the hour and a half it actually takes. Walter Lassally was a DP with considerable documentary experience, but his work possibly suffers due poor colour processing, maybe due to the film’s low budget. It’s certainly not this distinguished cinematographer’s finest moment.

There are compensations, mostly the interaction between the two lead actors. Naseeruddin Shah had had a long career in India and has since gone on to work internationally, in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen amongst others. What is a surprise, if only retrospectively, is to see Stellan Skarsgard, looking much younger and considerably thinner than he did just seven years later in Breaking the Waves, which is where most people, including me, first noticed him. These two are the best things about a film which may well pass the time if you caught it on TV, but is probably best not sought out, except by fans of the two stars or Merchant Ivory completists.

The Perfect Murder is available as part of Odyssey Quest’s twenty-film Merchant Ivory Collection box set, or singly. The DVD is encoded for Region 2 only.

The picture has an anamorphic transfer in a ratio of 1.85:1, which I have no doubt is the correct one. It’s not an especially attractive picture, looking rather ragged and muddy-coloured. That may be no doubt due to the original materials and poor colour processing, as may the grain. However, there are some scratches and spots which would indicate that this not-especially-old film has seen better days.

The soundtrack is the original mono, and it’s a decent enough track, with dialogue clearly audible and well balanced with the music and sound effects. However, both leading men’s accents (Indian and Swedish) may be hard on some people’s ears, which makes the disc’s lack of any subtitles even less excusable. There are twelve chapter stops.

Much less effort has been put into extras for this DVD than for others in the Collection. “About the Film” is a five-page text feature describing the film’s making. “About Merchant Ivory Productions” is the same text feature that’s on all the other discs in the collection. Add to that a pointless cast/crew listing, biographies for Shah, Skarsgard and Madhur Jaffrey and trailers for Bombay Talkie, The Europeans and Shakespeare Wallah. There are no specially-shot interviews, which suggests that this film was rather down the priority list for the producers of the Merchant Ivory DVD collection. It’s hardly a priority for the DVD buyer either, unless he or she is such a fan to be better off buying the entire collection.

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Last updated: 23/06/2018 06:29:06

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