In a 15th-century feudal village, a woman is accused of witchcraft and put to death. Her beautiful older daughter knows the real reason for the execution lies in the lord's sexual desire ... See full summary »
Adapted from a play that was based on a real-life murder case from 1827, although the play (and film) presented a highly sensationalized and sentimental version of the story. The real Maria Marten was hardly the innocent, virginal young thing as seen here; by the time of her murder she had already borne two children out of wedlock and was notoriously free with her affections. She had also had a child by Corder (with whom she was having a consensual affair), which either died or was murdered. (The character of her other "good" lover is a complete fiction.) Marten's stepmother claimed to have dreams where Maria's ghost led her to the spot where her body was later found; later researchers have speculated that the stepmother (only a few years older than Maria) was an accomplice to the murder. Corder was the same age group as Maria; the Victorian melodramas made him into an older man and very much a stereotypical upper-crust villain. Much was written about it at the time and fascination with the case continued well into the 20th century. See more »
Squire William Corder:
Didn't I make you a promise, Maria? I promised to make you a bride. Don't be afraid, Maria. You shall be a bride...a bride of Death!
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Tod Slaughter was able to do one important action as an actor - he put on film a series of the popular "warhorse" melodramas that were the meat and potatos of Victorian theatre way into the 20th Century. He knew these plays and their lead roles by heart, and how the public wanted him to play those villains. And several of the films were based on actual cases.
That is the case with the murder of Maria Marten at the Red Barn in Polstead, England. In 1827 William Corder, the surviving son of a fairly prosperous farmer, had an affair with Maria Marten (the daughter of a mole catcher). She became pregnant, and demanded he do the right thing. After hemming and hawing a bit William agreed to leaving with Maria for their future together. But he insisted she meet him secretly at the Red Barn, and she wear male attire. She did, but she informed her step-mother who watched her head for the Red Barn. Maria was never seen again for the next year. But letters from William, from London, came telling how Maria and he were very happy together.
One day (we are told) Mrs. Marten had a nightmare in which she saw Maria's body in the barn. She insisted her husband look. Mr. Marten did, and in digging up the floor of the barn found Maria's remains. The authorities started looking for Corder, and found he was living in London with a wife, and running a school. He was arrested, brought back to Bury St. Edmunds (the nearest town to Polestead), tried for Maria's murder, and found guilty.
He was executed in 1828.
Did Corder kill Maria? Most criminal historians feel he did, and are impressed at his initial attempt at a perfect crime - but why did it fall apart so easily? However one writer, Donald McCormick, wrote THE RED BARN MYSTERY, and pointed out that there were lots of questionable points in the story. Mrs. Marten's behavior, for instance. Local rumors said she had had an affair with Corder before he turned to Maria. Did the jealous woman suspect Corder's motives about the secrecy and disguise - but if she did, why did she not warn Maria? And if she did why didn't she tell her husband earlier? Did those letters really convince her that Maria was safe, or was her "dream" fake? McCormick suggested a different solution to the murder but it was rather bizaar.
Anyway the film with Slaughter keeps the traditional solution. And he goes to town with it.
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