powered by AFI
The so-called golden age of television in the 1950s produced a new, more naturalistic breed of actors, and few proved their mettle time and again more than Joanne Woodward. Getting her start at the age of 22 in an episode of the omnibus series Tales of Tomorrow in 1952, she got her big break four years later as one of the leads opposite Robert Wagner in the 1956 adaptation of Ira Levin's tricky and essentially unfilmable novel, A Kiss Before Dying. Little did anyone guess that with her next film, The Three Faces of Eve (1957), she would deliver a searing performance as a woman with a triple personality disorder. She quickly entered the list of top Hollywood stars and won consecutive roles in No Down Payment (1957) opposite her Kiss star Jeffrey Hunter, the 1958 version of The Long, Hot Summer with Paul Newman (whom she married the same year, though they had met years earlier as understudies for Picnic on Broadway), a prestigious but troubled 1959 version of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, and what is perhaps now regarded as her best film of this period, Sidney Lumet's 1960 adaptation of Tennessee Williams' The Fugitive Kind. That same year, she was the first actress to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
After this trajectory of roles, the Georgia-born actress began making some very unexpected choices with her career. In between frequent projects with her husband (who either co-starred with her or directed her), she chose unorthodox films like the twist-filled quasi-western, A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966), or two years earlier, a swift and tricky thriller called Signpost to Murder (1964).
Based on an English play by Monte Doyle that originally featured Margaret Lockwood onstage, the film casts Woodward as Molly Thomas, a married woman waiting for her husband to come back from a business trip abroad. Her solitude is broken by the arrival of Alex Forrester (Stuart Whitman), a convict who's been confined to a mental institution for the past decade; he is now on the run under the advice of his psychiatrist (Edward Mulhare), who has brought up a legal loophole which allows a court to reopen a murder case if the convicted party remains at large for two weeks. The unlikely pair grow attracted to each other, until a dead body turns up...
Filled with unexpected twists and turns, this independent production was picked up by MGM for theatrical distribution complete with the lurid tagline, "Are we all potential killers? Don't watch this picture if you are afraid of what it may reveal about yourself!" Strikingly lensed in black-and-white Panavision by veteran cinematographer Paul Vogel (The Time Machine, 1960), the film clocks in much shorter than average considering its pedigree; at 74 minutes, it's extremely spare and even leaner than the source play.
Like his leading lady with whom he had worked earlier on The Sound and the Fury, Whitman had also spent much of his career doing TV work in the '50s. By this point he had also made the full jump to leading man status with films like the 1964 thriller Shock Treatment (in which he also endured a stay in a mental hospital), and that same year's ambitious western, Rio Conchos. He had also earned an Oscar® nomination for 1961's The Mark and, as a trained boxer, had earned a reputation as one of the most reliable rugged actors around. He remained steadily employed, alternating between TV series and action and horror films (including work for Hammer Films and Roger Corman), until his retirement in 2000.
As for the third part of what amounts to essentially a three-character mystery, Edward Mulhare is perhaps the most familiar to '80s TV viewers for his recurring role as Devon Miles on Knight Rider, not to mention a long list of guest appearances and a hammy role in the 1982 box office disaster turned cult classic, Megaforce. He was mainly known as strictly a TV actor at the time he made Signpost to Murder, but afterwards he followed it with some intriguing big screen choices like Our Man Flint (1966), the eerie horror/art film Eye of the Devil (1966), and the mod 1967 Doris Day spy caper, Caprice. Next to co-starring with David Hasselhoff, the urbane Irish thespian's most enduring role in pop culture is his two-year stint as Captain Gregg in the TV version of The Ghost & Mrs. Muir opposite Hope Lange, which ran from 1968 to 1970. The original film's role had been originated by Rex Harrison, an actor Mulhare had followed earlier as understudy and then successor in the original Broadway run of My Fair Lady.
Producer: Lawrence Weingarten
Director: George Englund
Screenplay: Sally Benson; Monte Doyle (play)
Cinematography: Paul C. Vogel
Art Direction: Edward Carfagno, George W. Davis
Music: Lyn Murray
Film Editing: John McSweeney, Jr.
Cast: Joanne Woodward (Molly Thomas), Stuart Whitman (Alex Forrester), Edward Mulhare (Dr. Mark Fleming), Alan Napier (The Vicar), Joyce Worsley (Mrs. Barnes), Leslie Denison (Superintendant Bickley), Murray Matheson (Dr. Graham), Hedley Mattingly (Police Constable Mort Rogers), Carol Veazie (Auntie).
by Nathaniel Thompson