Signpost to Murder DVD Review: Stuart Whitman Goes Loco for Joanne Woodward

In Hollywood, it doesn’t take long to become typecast. Take, for example, the early career of one Stuart Whitman. Following a breakout performance as a recently released child molester attempting to exorcise his personal demons in 1961’s The Mark, the recently new to the limelight Mr. Whitman found himself earning an Oscar nomination and a few meaty parts alongside John Wayne in big studio productions. But the shadow of his most famous role (of the time) remained, and in 1962, Whitman was a supporting cast member in a prison drama entitled Convicts 4. In 1964, Stuart appeared in a psychological drama set in an insane asylum entitled Shock Treatment.

With a beginning workout like that, it wasn’t hard for Stuart Whitman to find himself in yet another psychological thriller by the time 1965 rolled around, this time cast as – wait for it – an escaped prisoner from an insane asylum in Signpost to Murder. Based on a stage production by playwright Monte Doyle, the story here finds Stu as Alex Forrester – an American confined to a British asylum for the murder of his wife some ten years ago. With no memory of the heinous crime, Alex has always maintained his innocence, though most of the institution’s doctors refuse to accept the possibility that he is anything but a butcher. But there’s always one bleeding heart out of the bunch, and his personal caretaker, Dr. Fleming (as played by Edward Mulhare), tries his best to get the poor bastard back out into the world.

Naturally, that doesn’t work. In a fit of pique, Alex knocks out his mental mentor and flees to the woods of the small, remote British countryside, where a lonely house with an equally lonely housewife named Molly Thomas awaits. Academy Award Winning actress Joanne Woodward is the top-billed lady in question, whose marriage to her stuffy, older, business-minded hubby has left her devoid of the human touch. Rather than turning into a bad rape/revenge exploitation movie from the ’70s, the arrival of Alex (sporting the latest in Moe Howard hairstyles, and clad in a sweater that looks like it was lifted from a beatnik coffee shop) to the quaint mill wheel home by the river only leads to our two leads letting their long-buried feelings surface.

But that all changes once Alex catches a hallucinogenic glimpse of Molly’s husband spinning in the mill wheel; murdered much in the same vein as Alex’s late wife was a decade before. Is Alex just as crazy as everyone else says he is? Alan Napier, best remembered as Alfred in the classic campy Batman television series of the time, turns in a brief (but fun) role as the local vicar (who tries to give a grieving Molly an elderly old woman to cry on) in this so-so psychological mystery that is, thankfully, only 78 minutes long. George Englund, who also helmed Marlon Brando’s The Ugly American and that weird psychedelic 1971 musical western Zachariah, turns in his second (of very few) directorial jobs (he would later work as a post-production executive on The Golden Girls if that tells you anything).

The Warner Archive Collection presentation of this new-to-home-video release presents the movie in its original widescreen aspect ratio, and the theatrical trailer (in 4:3 widescreen) – which sounds as if they were trying to sell another kind of story – is included as a bonus. In the long run, Signpost to Murder isn’t a memorable flick. In fact, for a movie that only has one murder, it has an awful lot of difficulty finding its direction. But you may just want to give it a whirl just the same. You know, so you can check off yet another movie featuring Stuart Whitman as an escaped nutcase.

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Luigi Bastardo

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