William Marble’s (Charles Laughton) financial problems are hardly a secret. He can’t go anywhere without someone asking him to pay up on a bill or someone whispering about how he can’t afford to buy his own drinks. Things really come to a head when his boss finds out about a lawsuit against him and threatens to fire him if he can’t get it straightened out fast. William thinks he might have found a solution to his problems when he gets an unexpected visit from his nephew James Medland (Ray Milland). William doesn’t really know James, but he quickly notices that he has money. First William tries convincing James to act on a financial tip he’s gotten, giving William a 10% commission of course. James doesn’t like that idea, so William tries just asking him to lend him some money. Again, James says no and William decides it’s time to move onto Plan C — murder. He slips some Cyanide into a drink and offers it to James, then buries the body in the backyard.
The next day, William is wracked with guilt and his wife Annie (Dorothy Peterson) and his daughter Winnie (Maureen O’Sullivan) notice something is off about him. When he goes to work, he takes James’ money and uses it on that hot financial tip and comes home a rich man. All their debts can be paid off and William is able to quit his job. Of course the family could also afford to either move or completely renovate their house, but obviously, William doesn’t want strangers poking around the place. Instead, he sends Anna and Winnie off on vacation for a few weeks. But while they’re gone, he gets a visit from Marguerite Collins (Verree Teasdale), a local shopkeeper. Her visit isn’t purely social, though. She’s there to get some money from William. She seduces him and the two of them carry on an affair while Annie and Winnie are away, but Winnie finds out about them when she and her mother get home a day earlier than expected.
Not wanting to hurt her mother, Winnie keeps quiet about seeing Marguerite in the house. But the idea of an unfaithful husband quickly proves to be the least of Annie’s problems when she figures out that William had poisoned James. She doesn’t turn him in, though. Life goes on, but Winnie starts hanging out with some more upper class people and becomes a real snob. After fighting with William one night, she runs away and Annie goes chasing after her in the rain. She doesn’t catch Winnie, but she does get horribly sick. William takes care of her and she appears to be making steady progress. At least she is until Marguerite pays another visit to blackmail William into giving her more money. Annie overhears their conversation and, heartbroken, poisons herself with the Cyanide he used to kill James. William doesn’t know she’s killed herself until a doctor arrives and finds her dead. He is convicted of murder and put on death row. Even though he didn’t kill Annie, he sees it as payment for killing James.
Payment Deferred was a very solid little movie. Charles Laughton was pretty darn good in this. He had some great sinister moments while interacting with James and I loved the scenes where he was paranoid and on edge. This was a pretty early Ray Milland role and he doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but he does well with what time he does have. Maureen O’Sullivan really didn’t make much effort to use a British accent, but Dorothy Peterson made a great loyal wife and Verree Teasdale was pretty wonderfully evil. Plus it’s not even an hour and a half long, so it’s one of those great “short but sweet” movies. I’d definitely recommend checking this one out next time it’s on TCM.