|STATE'S ATTORNEY (director: George Archainbaud; screenwriters: Roland Brown/Gene Fowler/based on a story by Louis Stevens; cinematographer: Leo Tover; editor: Charles L. Kimball; music: Max Steiner; cast: John Barrymore (Tom Cardigan), Helen Twelvetrees (June Perry), William Boyd (Vanny Powers), Jill Esmond (Lillian Ulrich), Mary Duncan (Nora Dean), Oscar Apfel (Ulrich), Ralph Ince (Defense Attorney), Albert Conti (Mario), Frederick Burton (Judge), Leon Waycoff (City Prosecutor), Paul Hurst (Police Captain Morgan), Raoul Roulien (Senor Alvarado); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David O'Selznick; Warner Archive Collection; 1932)|
|"The dialogue is sharp, but the
script is weak."
by Dennis Schwartz
Archainbaud ("Men of Steel"/"Night
Life"/"Easy Pickings") directs a lively but cynical
Pre-code courtroom morality melodrama that has John
Barrymore steal the film by flamboyantly playing the
debonair and brilliant but arrogant hard drinking
attorney Tom Cardigan, whose early career success is
due to his mob connections. The dialogue is sharp, but
the script is weak. The directing is only middling.
Writers Roland Brown and Gene Fowler turn in a banal
screenplay that goes nowhere. It's based on
a story by Louis Stevens. A weaker,
sanitized version was remade in 1937 and was
titled Criminal Lawyer.
streetwalker June Perry (Helen
Twelvetrees) is accused by a corrupt
police informer of tapping on her window panes to drum
up her prostitution business with a passing male,
gangster club owner Vanny Powers (William Boyd), the
lawyer's close friend, Cardigan, ever since their
reform school days as youths, pays a large sum for the
mob mouthpiece to defend his employee in night court
and save his club from its name from being tarnished.
June is successfully defended by
Cardigan's lies, and then quits the oldest
profession to turn over a new leaf as she moves in
with the lawyer as his squeeze.
also begins Cardigan's reform efforts. He gets elected
District Attorney and turns over a new leaf of
actively prosecuting criminals--no longer beholden to
his former gangster pals, to their dismay. A drunken
Cardigan falls in love with loose-living socialite
Lillian Ulrich (Jill Esmond) and marries her on
a whim, and believes her influential dad (Oscar
Apfel) could pull the strings to get him a
governor's nomination. The disappointed love-sick June
takes a powder. Later she's a witness to Vanny killing
a rival thug and realizes that if she testifies she
could be killed and thereby avoids Cardigan. But
Cardigan fights for justice, despite his past flaws,
and while chasing after June to testify realizes that
she is the one he loves and annuls his marriage. It
concludes with a thrilling courtroom scene, that
seemed as phony and unbelievable as the story, as the
DA prosecutes his former mob boss. Despite such
nonsense, it's nevertheless entertaining as soap opera
as no one should take the story for reality. It was an
escape film for a Depression audience, that probably
appreciated it more than a modern-day audience could.
REVIEWED ON 7/21/2014 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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