Tuesday, December 12, 2006


This entertaining legal melodrama is based on a play, "The Mouthpiece," which was made into a movie in the 30's, but even if you haven't seen that film (and I have not), the plot will still seem familiar--it has echoes of a 1933 William Powell film called LAWYER MAN. George Brent is a district attorney who has just won a case which sends a young man (David Bruce) to the electric chair. Bruce continues to proclaim his innocence, and, moments before his scheduled execution, another man, a star witness for the prosecution, confesses to the murder. Brent tries to get word to the prison but it arrives too late to save the boy. Devastated by the mistake, Brent resigns his post and becomes a defense lawyer. At first, apparently out of a need for redemption, he barely scrapes by taking on cases for indigent clients, but soon gets wrapped up in the affairs of a gangland tough (Richard Barthelmess) and winds up making good money working for racketeers. His loyal secretary (Virginia Bruce) goes along with him but is ambivalent about his new career direction, and things come to a head when Brent's kid brother (William Lundigan) arrives fresh out of law school to intern with Brent. When Lundigan finds out that Brent is helping Barthelmess out of tax evasion charges, he steals some incriminating papers and gives them to the feds. The thugs, of course, don't take kindly to this and they kill one of their own (Marc Lawrence) in order to frame Lundigan for murder. Brent defends his brother in court, but he's found guilty and put on death row and Brent has to race against time to get the evidence that will clear Lundigan. This is a better than average second feature; it's paced well and has a cast stuffed with some of the great Warners B-movie regulars: Lundigan, Lawrence, Virginia Bruce, Brenda Marshall (as a secretary who falls for Lundigan, though that promising plotline leads nowhere), Alan Baxter (as a particularly slimy thug), John Litel, George Tobias, Louis Jean Heydt, John Ridgely, and William Hopper. Brent has a couple of nice trick scenes, one in which he drinks from a vial of poison to prove that his client couldn't be guilty of murder, and another in which he uses a planted newspaper story to get a confession out of someone. Lots of fun. [TCM]

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