Cotten plays Whitney "Cam" Cameron, who hurries to the side of his widowed sister-in-law Lynn (Jean Peters) when his young niece Polly is hospitalized. Lynn has been raising her stepchildren Polly and Doug (Freddy Ridgeway) since the death of her husband, Cam's brother.
Polly tragically -- and inexplicably -- dies. That seems to be the end of it, until Cam's friends Fred and Maggie (Gary Merrill, Catherine McLeod) suggest for various reasons that it's possible Polly was poisoned. The most likely suspect seems to be her stepmother Lynn, who stands to inherit all of her late husband's fortune if both his children die. Cam must discover the truth quickly, as the life of his nephew Doug may be in danger. Lynn wants to take the little boy on an extended trip to Europe...
This is a briskly paced movie which doesn't waste a second, even during the opening credits. The film is an interesting blending of traditional murder mystery melodrama with an unadorned, realistic "docu-noir" style in the sequences with the police. It may not be a top tier film, but it's consistently engrossing, and I found it a very enjoyable hour and 17 minutes.
The cast is very good, with Cotten as the man who is suspicious yet disbelieving that his beautiful sister-in-law could be evil -- especially as it seems increasingly clear that Cam is attracted to Lynn. Peters is a glamorous potential femme fatale...is she a murderess, or is she being cruelly maligned?
I was a bit hestitant about watching the movie, as I thought I might have trouble watching a film in which a child is murdered. However, it is tastefully handled, with the little girl's face never shown on the screen, although she is briefly heard crying.
Some fun trivia: the shipboard set seen in the film was used in several Fox films released in 1953, including TITANIC, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, and DANGEROUS CROSSING.
The film was written and directed by Andrew L. Stone.
Last fall Jacqueline posted a very interesting, detailed analysis of the film at Another Old Movie Blog, including a comparison of the film to a radio version starring Dorothy McGuire and Dan Dailey. Be sure to check it out.
A BLUEPRINT FOR MURDER has had a release on DVD.
It is also shown on Turner Classic Movies.