PAYMENT DEFERRED (director: Lothar Mendes; screenwriters: play by Jeffrey Dell/Ernest Vajda/Claudine West; cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad; editor: Frank Sullivan; music:  William Axt; cast: Charles Laughton (William "Willie" Marble), Maureen O'Sullivan (Winnie Marble), Dorothy Peterson (Annie Marble), Verree Teasdale (Madame Marguerite "Rita" Collins), Ray Milland (James "Jim" Colville Medland), Billy Bevan (Charlie Hammond); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Irving Thalberg; MGM; 1932)

"A solid theatrical crime drama."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A solid theatrical crime drama, even if the dialogue is not that interesting, it's too bleak to be much fun and it's shot in a dullish black-and-white. It's based on Jeffrey Dell's 1931 play. Charles Laughton, in a showy performance, recreates his stage role of a milquetoast London bank clerk, who would do anything to save his threatened bank position and poverty stricken life. Director Lothar Mendes ("Tampico"/"Flight for Freedom"/"If I Had A Million") and writers Ernest Vajda and Claudine West keep it engrossing.

A bank clerk in the foreign exchange department for twenty years, Willie Marble (Charles Laughton), lives with his obedient wife Annie (Dorothy Peterson) and needy young adult daughter Winnie (Maureen O'Sullivan). The impoverished family have big debts and Willie's bank boss threatens to can him unless he settles soon a law suit a client brought against him. Learning inside information on the French franc, Willie feels up against it because he has no money to invest. But the unexpected visit to their humble house from Australia of his nephew Jim Medland (Ray Milland), flashing money, has the desperate Willie poison him with cyanide and steal his money when nephew refuses to invest in his scheme. He then buries him in his garden.

Willie grows increasingly tense, even after his speculation results in a £30,000 windfall, and he sends his wife and daughter on a holiday. He also begins an affair with the creepy Rita Collins (Verree Teasdale), a neighbor who owns a dress shop. Rita blackmails Willie for hush money, and Annie over hears it. Annie is so upset with hubby, that she poisons herself. Willie is sentenced to be hanged for her murder, which explains the title.

REVIEWED ON 7/1/2015       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"



As Hammond shows a prospective tenant a house in London, the two men discuss the murder that was committed by its former occupant, Willie Marble, and wonder what the walls would say if only they could talk: The Marbles are overwhelmed by debts, and Willie will lose his job in the foreign exchange department of a bank if he doesn't settle a suit brought against him. He hears about a potentially lucrative speculation in the French franc, but hasn't the money to invest in it. When his nephew, James Medland, suddenly arrives from Australia, Willie hopes that the young man's obvious wealth will help him, but James is neither interested in investments nor in giving Willie a loan. Willie then laces James's drink with cyanide that he keeps for his photographic hobby, and steals the money from James's wallet. After burying the body in the backyard, Willie is haunted by it and even his making £30,000 on the franc speculation does not calm him. He sends his wife Annie and daughter Winnie on a holiday and stays home, reading about poisons. He begins an affair Mme. Rita Collins, who owns a local dress shop, but stops when Winnie finds out as she and her mother return a day early from their holiday. Annie soon realizes what Willie has done. Rather than turning him in, her understanding seems to ease Willie's conscience. Their life is peaceful for a while, but when Winnie tells her mother about Willie's affair and decides to stay with some upper-class friends instead of remaining at home, Annie rushes after her in a storm and becomes very ill. One day, Rita comes to the door and demands that Willie pay her five hundred pounds. Willie wants her to leave, but their voices are heard by Annie, who sneaks downstairs. Seeing Willie give Rita the money, Annie assumes that their affair is still going on and decides to kill herself. She then puts poison in her glass of orange juice and becomes gravely ill. When she dies, the doctor discovers that she has been poisoned and assumes that Willie has murdered her. Willie is then condemned to death for Annie's murder. As he is about to be hanged, a remorseful Winnie visits him, blaming herself for Annie's death. Willie, however, says that he is simply making a delayed payment for what he did in the past.

Ray Milland, three years into his budding film career, took a supporting role to the flamboyant star turn of Charles Laughton in the ironic MGM drama Payment Deferred (1932). Laughton recreated his role from the 1931 Broadway stage play by Jeffrey F. Dell, adapted in turn from the 1926 novel by C.S. Forester.

Laughton plays Willie Marble, a financially troubled, seemingly timid London bank clerk who sees a visit by his wealthy Australian nephew James (Milland) as an opportunity to clear the debts that are overwhelming him. When James fails to offer any relief, Willie laces the younger man's drink with cyanide, takes what money he has on him and buries him in the back yard. He invests the money shrewdly and becomes wealthy, but his life unravels as he deserts his wife, Annie (Dorothy Peterson) and takes up with a seductive dress-shop owner (Verree Teasdale). In plot developments involving his daughter (Maureen O'Sullivan), Willie faces a "payment deferred" that has nothing to do with money.

Laughton biographer Simon Callow wrote of the star's work in Payment Deferred that "The essential grammar of all Laughton's subsequent performances is there: the heavy lids, the sense of barely contained energy, the sexual voluptuousness a millimetre below the surface, the sudden accelerandos and heart-stopping ritarandos."

Milland, in one of his first sizeable roles under an MGM contract that had begun the previous year, may have been rattled by Laughton's virtuoso ability. Although he later became a remarkably relaxed and assured performer, Milland was deemed so "nervous" by Payment Deferred director Lothar Mendes that the studio decided to drop him. The Welsh-born actor returned to his native Britain for a couple of films before deciding to give Hollywood another try and winning a new contract -- and eventual stardom -- at Paramount.

In an interesting side note to Payment Deferred, it was reported in The Boston Post that a fire captain who killed himself in March 1933 in Peabody, Mass., had been inspired by the movie to use cyanide as his means of suicide, although a local police chief deemed this report "ridiculous." At the time of the film's release, the Hays Office had warned MGM that some areas would not allow the mention of a specific poison as a means of murder. Indeed, some theaters refused to show the film until the references to cyanide were removed. For a 1939 re-release, the Hays Office insisted upon five dialogue cuts to remove what it considered to be "suggestive remarks."

Producer: Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
Director: Lothar Mendes
Screenplay: Ernest Vajda, Claudine West, from play by Jeffrey F. Dell and novel by C.S. Forester
Cinematography: Merritt B. Gerstad
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: William Axt (uncredited)
Editing: Frank Sullivan
Costume Design: Adrian (uncredited)
Principal Cast: Charles Laughton (William "Willie" Marble), Maureen O'Sullivan (Winnie Marble), Dorothy Peterson (Annie Marble), Verree Teasdale (Madame Marguerite "Rita" Collins), Ray Milland (James "Jim" Colville Medland), Billy Bevan (Charlie Hammond).

by Roger Fristoe

In this adaptation of Jeffrey Dell's play, Charles Laughton recreates his stage role as a seemingly meek bank clerk. To make good his debts, Laughton ingratiates himself with his wealthy Australian nephew (Ray Milland), then poisons the lad and buries the body in his garden. Using the money the nephew had on his person, Laughton invests wisely and becomes rich himself. He rapidly goes to seed, deserting his wife (Dorothy Peterson) for a "woman of the world" (Verree Teasdale) and drinking himself into unconsciousness. Laughton's distraught wife figures out the extent of her husband's crimes, and grimly arranges for Laughton to accidentally kill her--with enough circumstantial evidence planted to convict the husband of murder. Payment Deferred was a particularly vivid experience for supporting actor Ray Milland, who watched in amazement as Charles Laughton got away with some of the ripest "ham" ever seen on film.

ny times

Instead of a week at the Capitol, where it was scheduled to go, the picturization of Jeffrey Dell's play," "Payment Deferred," with Charles Laughton in the rôle he acted so cleverly on the stage, has received only two days—yesterday and today—-at Loew's Lexington, Lexington Avenue and Fifty-first Street. As this film happens to be a restrained and intelligent version of the stage work, it is a pity that it has not been dignified with the usual seven days, particularly when one considers some of the pictures that have been given priority over it. However, it is probable that one or two of the smaller cinemas in the heart of the city will consider running this immensely interesting murder tale with its imaginative ending.

Frank Sullivan was responsible for the sensible screen script and Lothar Mendes officiated as the director. Mr. Mendes errs here and there by prolonging episodes unnecessarily and at times he does not seem to have given the sequences all that was possible in cinematic scope. Then, too, the scenes appear to have been somewhat hastily matched up. But the spirit of Mr. Dell's play remains and added to this there is Mr. Laughton's stirring performance, which is almost as fine as it was on the stage.

It is the outstanding murder story that has come to the screen, and, thanks to Mr. Sullivan's knowledgeful adaption, the film producers have left well enough alone when it comes to the commission of the crime.

Here is a clerk in a London bank who handles the foreign exchange. He is in debt, very much so, and it looks as though he might lose his position. The night of the day he has been warned by the manager regarding a letter from a man to whom this William Marble owes more than £100, a knock is heard on the door of the Marble abode. The visitor is not a debtor, is Marble expected, but a nephew from Australia and in the course of the evening the bank clerk discovers that the younger man has a well-stuffed wallet. Marble essays to interest his nephew, James Medland, in investing in francs, through which the bank employe knows a fortune can be made with a comparatively small sum of money. But Medland stubbornly refuses to harken to his uncle and also resents Marble's constant references to money. Apparently to pacify his nephew, Marble suggests a drink and Medland says he will take a Scotch and soda.

Marble, after hesitating and making excuses for going outside the room, finally puts cyanide of potassium in his nephew's glass. The sudden death of the nephew is left to one's imagination, but next morning, Mrs. Marble is surprised to discover her husband's clothes covered with mud. He is in a highly nervous condition and apparently cannot Keep his eyes from the window looking out on the little garden patch.

In a few days Marble has made a fortune of £30,000. He brings home half a dozen bottles of whisky and eventually suggests that his wife and daughter go away for a while, but he declines to leave the house himself. The rest of the story is worked out so as to show that the money gives Marble but small satisfaction and in the end justice is dispensed in a grim and unexpected fashion.

Mr. Laughton as Marble, worried over money matters, not "knowing which way to turn," is compelling, and subsequently he gives a remarkably forceful impression of the bank clerk's terror after he has committed the crime. The slightest noise affects Marble. He is irritable. Once he believes that his wife suspects him of the murder, but it turns out that she thought he had stolen funds from the bank. Then comes the day when she suddenly realizes that her husband is a murderer. Dorothy Peterson's portrayal of Mrs. Marble is thoroughly capable, likewise Maureen O'Sullivan's interpretation of the rôle of the daughter, Winnie. Verree Teasdale is satisfactory as a French siren.

PAYMENT DEFERRED, based on the play by Jeffrey Dell; directed by Lothar Mendes; produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. At Loew's Lexington.
William Marble . . . . . Charles Laughton
Gordon Holmes . . . . . Neil Hamilton
Winnie Marble . . . . . Maureen O'Sullivan
Annie Marble . . . . . Dorothy Peterson
Mme. Collins . . . . . Verree Teasdale
James Medland . . . . . Ray Milland
Hammond . . . . . Billy Bevan
A Prospective Tenant . . . . . Halliwell Hobbs
A Doctor . . . . . William Stack


Lothar Mendes Director
Dick Rosson Assistant Director
Charles Laughton William [Willie] Marble
Maureen O'Sullivan Winnie Marble
Dorothy Peterson Annie Marble
Verree Teasdale Mme. [Rita] Collins
Ray Milland James Medland
Billy Bevan Hammond
Halliwell Hobbes A prospective tenant
William Stack A doctor
Merritt B. Gerstad Photography
Ernest Vajda Screenwriter
Claudine West Screenwriter
Frank Sullivan Film Editor