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Murder mystery offers glimpse of 1930s Victoria

What: Free-B Film Festival: Murder Is News Where: Broadmead Village Shopping Centre When: Saturday 9 p.m.
John Gallaudet, left, and George McKay in Murder Is News.

What: Free-B Film Festival: Murder Is News

Where: Broadmead Village Shopping Centre

When: Saturday 9 p.m.

Admission: Free


To say that the newspaper business isn’t what it used to be — even Hollywood’s more far-fetched depictions — is an understatement.

A particularly glamourized edition was delivered in Murder Is News, a murder mystery with a bonus for local filmgoers — producer Kenneth J. Bishop’s “quota quickie” was filmed in Victoria in the mid-1930s.

Long before Victoria routinely stood in for big cities such as New York (Year of the Dragon), Boston (Little Women, Stonados), Chicago (Perfect High) and Los Angeles (Glitterdome), the region was passed off as a generic American city for director Leon Barsha’s potboiler.

“I think they wanted us to assume it’s Gotham or some big American city,” said Donovan Aikman, programmer for the Victoria Film Festival, which is screening the film at 9 p.m. on Saturday at Broadmead Village Shopping Centre to close this year’s Free-B Festival.

“They were just very clear they didn’t want it to be Canada.”

Since many of the whodunit’s scenes take place after dark, Victoria isn’t that recognizable, Aikman said.

“Anyone from here would get a good laugh, though, because there are telltale lampposts in some of the outdoor scenes, ones you don’t see in other parts of the world.”

The film, one of several made by the British-born promoter under his Central Films banner, stars John Gallaudet as Jerry Tracy, a reporter for The Daily Planet who moonlights as a gossipy radio-show host. The film’s screenplay was written by Edgar Edwards, the actor who played Mountie Ken Strange in Death Goes North, last year’s Free-B Festival attraction that co-stars Iris Meredith and George McKay.

The Murder Is News plot focuses on the danger Tracy faces when he sets out to confront a powerful businessman suspected of infidelity, only to discover the shady captain of industry has been murdered.

“We’re really pleased to be able to bring this part of filmmaking history back,” said Aikman, noting the film has been out of circulation for 75 years.

As audiences discovered after watching Death Goes North last year, there’s something oddly thrilling about seeing a film shot in your own city eight decades ago.

“That one was shot around Rithet’s Bog, and that area was so undeveloped at the time,” recalled Aikman, who asks eagle-eyed filmgoers to share any familiar locations that might not be instantly recognizable.

“One that everyone caught [in Death Goes North] was part of the original Saanich Fairgrounds, where there weren’t any fairgrounds yet. There was no mistaking the cabin that used to be at the fairgrounds.”

When the festival screened another quota quickie, Convicted, one year, organizers were pleasantly surprised when one of the movie’s original background performers showed up.

“It’s going to be fun to find out what happens this year,” said Aikman, who is curious about where a nightclub scene in Murder Is News was shot. “We always have somebody pop up out of the woodwork to fill us in.”

Before Saturday night’s feature unspools, the audience will be treated to a short film titled Kali, Le Petit Vampire; a Max Fleischer Superman cartoon, in which intrepid reporters Clark Kent and Lois Lane are granted an exclusive when The Daily Planet agrees to fund an expedition to underground caves; and the second chapter of The Tunnel of Terror, the Flash Gordon serial first shown before Death Goes North.

Moviegoers are encouraged to bring their own chairs and blankets to sit in the shopping centre’s breezeway area. Broadmead Pharmasave will operate a concession, with funds raised going to the Canucks for Kids fund for charities that support children’s health and well being.

Film buffs can enter to win a Movie Magic prize package from Marlin Travel valued at $250. It includes popcorn, a popcorn bowl, candles, beverages and a $200 travel voucher.

The Free-B Festival, which has screened family-friendly films on Friday and Saturday nights in August at locations including Beacon Hill Park’s Cameron Bandshell, the B.C. legislature lawn and Broadmead Village since 2000, is the region’s longest-running outdoor film series.

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