Thursday, May 19, 2016

Signpost to Murder: A Tidy Thriller

The Milhampton Asylum.
Alex Forrester, an inmate at the Milhampton Asylum for the Criminal Insane, is under-standably perturbed when the institution's board denies his release. However, he hatches an escape plan after his psychiatrist, Dr. Fleming, mentions an unusual law which entitles a fugitive to a new trial if he evades capture for 14 days.

Forrester (Stuart Whitman) seeks refuge at the isolated home of Molly Thomas (Joanne Woodward). Molly appears to be a lonely woman no longer in love with her husband Evan. She confesses that she married him because she wanted to become someone else. For her husband's part, Molly tells Forrester: "It's having a wife that Evan loves."

Forrester senses Molly's vulnerability and she is surprised by his innocent nature. He doesn't seem like a man who may have slit his wife's throat. The couple draw closer together as the police dragnet closes in. But the police are only one of Forrester's problems--especially after he sees a male corpse with a slit throat on the water mill located in the middle of Molly's house.

Joanne Woodward, Stuart Whitman, and the water mill visible through window.

Made in 1964, Signpost to Murder has become nothing but a footnote in the careers of its stars. However, that doesn't negate the fact that it's a tidy thriller that holds interest and takes advantage of a brilliant set. Most of the action takes place in Molly's house and around the aforementioned river mill. I don't think it's an exaggeration to suggest a number of film fans know it simply as "the river mill house movie." (Click here to see a clip on our YouTube channel.)

The water mill is located under the three windows in the roof.

Signpost to Murder was based on a 1962 London play by Monte Doyle. That comes as no surprise, given the limited number of sets. You'll likely figure out the plot's big revelation before the climax. Still, with a running time under 80 minutes, you won't get bored.

Stuart Whitman makes Forrester a sympathetic character, no small feat considering that the escaped inmate may be a murderer and is holding a woman hostage with a shotgun. Whitman earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination in 1961 for The Mark, in which he played another emotionally fragile individual. He also played a man posing as an asylum inmate in 1964's Shock Treatment.

The 1960s were an uneven decade for Joanne Woodward, who balanced critically-acclaimed performances (Rachel, Rachel) with misfires (e.g., The Stripper). She and Edward Mulhare (as Dr. Fleming) give solid performances in Signpost to Murder. However, from an acting standpoint, it's Whitman that holds the movie together.

The view from Forrester's perspective as he watches Molly and Dr. Fleming.

I first saw Signpost to Murder on The CBS Late Movie in the mid-1970s. It was one of those movies that stuck with me over the years. I recently had the opportunity to watch it again and, while it could use the Hitchcock touch, it remains a compelling thriller. And, yes, I still love that "river mill house."


  1. I have not seen this film but its one I have wanted to catch for years and I just checked and see WB has this available VOD. It's a buy!

  2. This sounds like a really interesting thriller. I'm not familiar with Stuart Whitman, but it sounds like he has real talent.

    Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. It's funny how some settings stay with us sometimes longer than the plots and casts of films. Whitman is a favourite of mine and I look forward to catching this as "tidy thrillers" are a real treat.

  4. This is an example of where the setting truly is imperative to the film. The water mill is remarkably beautiful yet its location is isolated. It mesmerizes with its movement and its sound yet it can be frightening. Whitman gives an emotional and compelling performance. This "Signpost" should be investigated. Excellent review, Rick!