Love and Murder is a rough-edged, fast paced and ever-so-slightly sleazy little Bollywood B thriller that satisfyingly combines noirish stylistic flourishes with elements of the James Bond movies. If you're going to crib, you might as well do it from the best, and Love and Murder certainly cribs well, also pilfering here and there from the German Krimi thrillers and even Clouzot's Les Diaboliques. The addition of a classic femme fatale turn by Helen and an appearance by a mysterious killer in a skeleton suit almost compensates for the fact that the print from which the M.H. One VCD was made looks like it spent a good deal of time marinating on the bed of a stagnant lake.
When it comes to reviewing these un-subtitled old Bollywood B Movies, you pretty much know by now that it's going to go one of three ways with me -- unless, of course, it's a stunt movie, in which case I'm just going to rate it based on how many times Dara Singh punches a dinosaur. I'm either going to conclude by saying that I liked the film and wish that someone would put it out on a decent quality DVD with English subtitles, that I hated it and doubt subtitles would do anything to improve it, or that the lack of subtitles made it so difficult for me to figure out what the hell was going on that I can't make a judgment one way or the other. In the case of Love and Murder, however, not only did the film's plotting seem to conform to some pretty familiar formulas, but I also had a fairly detailed synopsis that I acquired from the database at the ever-reliable Indian Filmtrade.com. So, sadly, the only thing that really muddled my comprehension was the fact that the already distressed-looking film became little more than a ghost of itself during the final reel, making it almost impossible to discern the action that was taking place.
Now, I've said before that I generally don't mind signs of age on a film; Just as old records should have their skips and pops, old movies should have their telltale scratches and fades, not to mention that seeing a film in that condition makes me feel like I'm beating the odds by being able to see it at all. Still, in the case of Love and Murder, the fact that these defects got in the way of actually following the picture was frustrating. I also have to say that the film's heavy reliance on chiaroscuro compositions and dramatic uses of light and shadow leads me to think that it would be a minor wonder to behold on a fully restored print.
Love and Murder starts with a daring night-time bank robbery that, fortuitously for the four robbers involved, takes place at the same time that some kind of wild block party is being held on the street outside. In a very nicely staged scene, the Hindi rock and roll number being played by the band crescendos just as the thieves dynamite the safe, with the tantric -- and very Laxmi Chaiyya-ish, I must say -- go-go dancing of the teenage partygoers reaching a crazed fever pitch. Unfortunately for the robbers, one of their number, Kedar, manages to make off with the plunder -- a fortune of twenty lacs -- and hightail it out of town. This does not please the robber's boss, an unseen "Mister Big" who speaks to them from behind a giant hypno-wheel with a blinking eyeball at its center, and the three remaining men are ordered to find the loot or else. Unknown to the men, their boss also assigns his right-hand woman, the dancer Julia (Helen), to tail after them and make sure they get the job done.
Meanwhile, Kedar shows up in Bombay at the home of his innocent sister Geeta with promises of a bright future ahead. Unfortunately, the other thieves arrive in town right on his heels, and Geeta soon finds her brother drowned in the bathtub. The thieves are unable to find the stolen money, however, and conclude that Geeta must have hidden it. At this point, a mysterious stranger named Ranjit shows up, surprising the crooks with his knowledge of their scheme. Made a member of the gang, Ranjit then sets out to woo Geeta, somehow managing to spirit her away to a resort called the Rainbow Hotel, which is run by Ruby, another gang accomplice. The rest of the gang is there, too, of course, and it is not long before, one-by-one, they start to turn up mysteriously murdered.
Love and Murder's musical score consists almost entirely of needle-dropped cues from John Barry's Goldfinger soundtrack, a quite common occurrence in Indian -- and Cantonese and Turkish -- B movies of this period. One departure from this is a whimsical scene that's accompanied by "Baby Elephant Walk". All of this comes off as a bit jarring, because, due to both the techniques used and the condition of the film, it looks like it could just as easily have been made in the thirties or forties, and the background tunes are often the only thing that clue you in to its true vintage. This is far from a complaint, however, because I loved how the movie combined old fashioned elements of the "old dark house" mystery genre and classic noir style with more contemporary touches, and this clash of sound and vision just served to accentuate that mix. As for the foregrounded tunes, O.P. Nayyar's song score is pleasant enough and, most importantly, provides the opportunity for a couple of great dance numbers by Helen.
An obscurity like Love and Murder probably isn't on the top of anyone's list of films to hunt down and restore, but it's nice to dream. The movie's tale of an innocent trapped in a den of scoundrels is told with enough style and effectiveness to show that, despite its poverty row roots, a considerable amount of care went into its making. To my mind, it would be nice to see that care rewarded with a little retroactive TLC. Until then, we'll just have to use our imaginations to fill in Love and Murder's gaps, while trying to get the most out of what there is left of it to enjoy.