A BLUEPRINT FOR MURDER. 20th Century Fox, 1953. Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Gary Merrill, Catherine McLeod, Jack Kruschen, Barney Phillips, Freddy Ridgeway. Written and directed by Andrew L. Stone.

   When his young niece dies a painful death of unknown causes, Whitney Cameron (Jospeh Cotten) is inclined to think it only a fluke of fate until the wife of the family attorney, a woman who also writes for the pulp magazines, does some investigating on her own and comes up with the possibility that the girl was poisoned. With strychnine.

   If this is true, it’s next to impossible that it was an accident. And this being a movie, of course the answer is yes, the girl was poisoned, as an autopsy finally reveals. Could it be murder? Cam cannot believe it, but his suspicion (and that of the police) soon turns to the child’s stepmother (Jean Peters), who is as cool as they come and is calmly acquitted for lack of evidence.

   Cam’s only concern now is the fate of the dead girl’s young brother. Did the stepmother do it? Who else could have done it? Who else had a motive? It’s a battle of wits between Joseph Cotten, as solid an actor as they come, and the cool and collected Jean Peters. I know, I know. I’m repeating myself, but this is the heart of the film.

   I only wish is that the ending was able to live up to the rest of the story, and sad to say, it does not. This movie is sometimes categorized as “noir,” and a goodly part of it is. The middle portion, though, is straight out of Dragnet, which is fine, but the rest of the film wants to be a detective puzzle, and it simply isn’t there.