Saturday, August 11, 2012

Haunted Honeymoon (1940)

When Lord Peter Wimsey, amateur criminologist, marries Harriet Vane, professional writer of detective stories, they make a pact to give up crime. I'm not sure why they bother, since that's obviously never going to last, even before the former owner of their new country home is found dead in the basement the morning after they move into the house.

This movie version from 1940, starring a wonderfully miscast Robert Montgomery as Lord Peter and a rather more appropriate Constance Cummings as Harriet, is not available on DVD. The only way I got to see it was by pure luck; my boyfriend just happened to check the listings for Turner Classic Movies a couple of weeks before it was due to air, at 7:15 in the morning on a Wednesday. We checked to see that the VCR still worked, bought a blank videotape (still available at Walgreens), and I started taping it before I went to work.

I'm glad to have seen it. I now have some recording of every Peter Wimsey story committed to film: the Ian Carmichael versions of Clouds of Witness, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, The Five Red Herrings, Murder Must Advertise, and The Nine Tailors from the 1970s, and the Edward Petherbridge versions of Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, and Gaudy Night from the 1980s, all of which I bought on DVD, and this odd little version of Busman's Honeymoon.

But it is odd, and the changes they made to the characters of Peter and Harriet are the oddest part. In the books it was obvious to both of them from the beginning that neither should have to give up a career for the other. The one thing that made Lord Peter think that maybe he ought to give up crime--his feeling that by pursuing monsters he was becoming a monster, and that sending a man to the gallows for murder was not substantially different from committing murder himself--is never mentioned here. Nor does his PTSD make an appearance.

I'd be quite interested in seeing a production of the original play now. I wish the BBC could have done this for television with Petherbridge and Harriet Walter, who had great chemistry in the three stories they did, but apparently they couldn't get the rights to it. Pity.


  1. I love Dorothy Sayers' mysteries! I haven't read all the Lord Peter Wimsey books yet--I'm saving them for a rainy day, or some sort of "I need a cheering book emergency--but I loved The Nine Tailors and Gaudy Night.

    1. Oh, me too. I reread them all periodically when I need some comfort reading. My favorite is Murder Must Advertise, just for the depiction of the advertising agency; Sayers had worked in one, and it shows.