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An occurrence that rarely happens but is always refreshingly different is when the original leads from a Broadway production get offered the same roles in the film version. That's precisely the case with Busman's Honeymoon by mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers. Produced in England and known in the United States as Haunted Honeymoon(1940), the film features Sayers' detective Lord Peter Wimsey (Robert Montgomery) and crime novel writer Harriet Vale (Constance Cummings) as newlyweds who have pledged to temporarily give up their interest in crime while honeymooning at a remote cottage. Lord Wimsey and Harriet discover that they may not be able to hold to this pledge when a body is found in the cellar of the by the house's cleaning staff. Scotland Yard Inspector Kirk (Leslie Banks) is brought in to work on the case but he is not sly enough to determine the identity of the murderer. The newly married couple realize they must crack the case on their own before they can be allowed to enjoy their honeymoon.
Dorothy L. Sayers had enjoyed some notoriety as a mystery writer in the 1920's and 1930's, especially with her novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. In the 1930's, her friend and fellow writer Muriel St. Clare Byrne convinced her to bring Lord Wimsey to the London stage, resulting in Busman's Honeymoon. The novel version appeared in 1937, one year after the play began its run. In 1939, director Arthur B. Woods began production on the screen version of the novel for MGM, at the company's British studio. Robert Montgomery (who had gotten his acting start on Broadway) and Maureen O'Sullivan were cast as the crime-fighting duo, but O'Sullivan soon bowed out and returned to the United States. World War II had begun, causing problems with film production abroad. First of all, Woods was a Royal Air Force pilot and was only able to work on the film when given official permission. To make matters worse, the Germans threatened to bomb the studio because MGM had recently released an anti-Nazi film, The Lion Has Wings (1939). Luckily, the threat was never carried out and the production was safe to continue, with Constance Cummings (whose career also began on Broadway) replacing O'Sullivan as Harriet Vale.
The finished film was released in the United States in 1940; Bosley Crowther of The New York Times Film Review stated "Seldom has there been a film so pleasantly conducive to browsing as this leisurely, bookish fable of murder...A glass of port, at least, should be taken along with it." In a time of world crisis, Haunted Honeymoon, with its body count of one, served as an easy escape from serious wartime issues and entertained armchair mystery fans.
Director: Arthur B. Woods
Producer: Harold Huth
Screenplay: Harold Goldman, Monckton Hoffe, Angus MacPhail (based on the novel by Dorothy L. Sayers)
Cinematography: Freddie Young
Editor: Al Barnes, James B. Clark
Music: Louis Levy
Cast: Robert Montgomery (Lord Peter Wimsey), Constance Cummings (Harriet Vane), Leslie Banks (Inspector Kirk), Seymour Hicks (Bunter), Robert Newton (Frank Crutchley)
by Sarah Heiman