Silent films were usually scripted more haphazardly than talking pictures. Silents were more modular, as it was easier to rearrange the order of the scenes: also, dialogue (for the intertitles) was often written or drastically rewritten long after the actors had finished shooting their scenes. 'The Perfect Crime' was filmed in 1928, at a time when it was already clear that silent movies were doomed. The independent producer who made this low-budget movie probably wanted to rush it into release as soon as possible, while a few cinemas that hadn't yet been wired for sound were still willing to exhibit silent movies.
Actually, 'The Perfect Crime' is a part-talkie, but (like most films in that bastard genre) it gives the appearance of being a silent film which had a few cursory talking sequences stuck into it as an afterthought. The first 'talking' sequence consists of some silent footage of comedian Lynne Overman as a man getting ready for bed on his wedding night, but first he switches on the radio ... and we hear a crude voice that's apparently meant to be a radio announcer, describing some of the plot events which we haven't seen yet. (The announcer also speaks some of the credits aloud, an idea that was done much more cleverly in 'The Terror'.) The announcer is unseen, so there's no need to synchronise sound and image. Elsewhere in this movie, the brief talkie sequences are very badly synchronised. We never see Overman again in this movie, which adds to my suspicions about its patchwork structure.
All of which explains why 'The Perfect Crime' is a vastly imperfect movie. This movie makes NO sense at all. Some guy named Trevor is on trial for killing some guy named Frisbie. Trevor is found guilty, except that Frisbie ain't dead, except that Trevor is found guilty anyway. Clive Brook stumbles through his role as some guy named Benson. After Trevor is executed, Benson says HE killed Frisbie. Then it turns out that Benson is really a plainclothes police detective ... so he can't really be a murderer, right? Actually, Benson really DID kill Frisbie, except that Frisbie ain't dead. Apparently Benson killed Frisbie just to prove he could commit a murder and get away with it. Except that Frisbie ain't dead.
This synopsis makes no sense because this movie makes no sense. It makes even less sense during the talkie sequences, when one actor's voice comes out of another actor's mouth because the soundtrack is off synch. Irene Rich gives a vaguely competent performance. Clive Brook has impressed me in other films, but here he seems to be playing an actor looking for a quick payday.
The cameraman on this film was the brilliant James Wong Howe, and this movie was made during Howe's most virtuoso period. Howe's work here is excellent, but it's wasted on a movie that makes no sense whatever. How did Howe get involved in this rubbish? In addition to being one of Hollywood's greatest cameramen, Jimmy Howe also owned and operated a successful Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles: I suspect that he made this movie while he was trying to raise financing for his rice noodles.
I'll rate 'The Perfect Crime' a perfect zero. Some incompetent movies exert a strange fascination, or they're so bad they're hilarious. This movie is just inept. If I could describe this movie in one word, that word would be 'HUH????'
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