A potentially explosive courtroom drama is ruined by inept direction, a wordy script, and gross miscasting, except for Hayworth, Dunnock, Squire, and Ryder. Odets hadn't directed a film since his first, NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART, many years before, and his rustiness behind the megaphone
was immediately apparent. It was the kind of direction that Odets the writer would have written an angry letter about; there were more loose ends dangling than one finds on a $25 suit. He'd intended it to be a play and worked on it between assignments; then Wald and studio chief Goetz asked him to
make it into a movie with himself directing. An ego as large as Odets' could not resist that offer, so a cast was assembled and the picture begun. But there must have been many changes in the script on the set because there are so many errors in construction and motivation. Hayworth lives with her
mother, Squire, who goes to see hard-drinking attorney Franciosa, a man just this side of bankruptcy, if we are to believe the shape of his office and the way in which he treats his clients. Hayworth and Young are lovers and have both been arrested for the murder of Hayworth's late husband, Ryder.
Franciosa is hired to defend them. In a flashback we see Hayworth being treated poorly by her drunken spouse, then her meeting old pal Young and taking up with him as an adulterous wife. Young goes to Hayworth's home, and the two are together when Ryder walks in, grabs for his gun, and
accidentally kills himself. Now it's time for the trial, and as poorly staged a trial as you have ever seen. The sloppy, erratic Franciosa is miraculously transformed into a sleek, well-dressed Melvin Belli with the brilliant courtroom tactics of Clarence Darrow. The audience knows from the start
that the death was an accident caused by Ryder himself, so all elements of suspense are gone straightaway. It's only a question of whether or not Franciosa can convince the jury and judge Griffith that his cause is just. The prosecutor is Meisner, a tough man who is out to nail this immoral couple
and will stop at nothing to do it.
The jump from bum to sharp attorney is but the first jar to the senses. During the trial, the policeman brother of the slain man, McGuinn, is questioned on the stand while dressed in a business suit. There's a cut to the people in the courtroom watching, and who should be there? McGuinn again, in
his police uniform, interested in what he himself is saying. It happens again when Dunnock is noted in the background while her voice seems to be coming from the witness stand. Dunnock is a fine actress with many laudable talents, but we suspect ventriloquism is not among them. In the middle of a
scene on the same day, Franciosa is seen wearing two different suits, which makes him not only a terrific defense attorney but surely one of the world's greatest quick-change artists.
Franciosa is intense, and every line of his dialog is read as though he were an Episcopalian minister warning about sin. Young has a tendency to be too glib and to go for the cutesy moves when his life is in danger of being snuffed by the state. Only Hayworth, of the three principals, is
convincing. By this time, age and gravity had worn down her glamorous image and she was able to play the role of a wife who had spent many unhappy years and was now seeking the chance to have a little joy in her life. The idea of having an adulterous couple as the protagonists turned many people
off. From time to time an excellent Odets line is heard, but, as the director, he should have been crueler with the author's script. Odets' pal, Sanford Meisner, the guru of the Neighborhood Playhouse, overplays to a fault. His students--and they are legion--must have laughed themselves silly.
Editor Fowler is not to be blamed for the mistakes, since he could only work with the footage that was offered him. Surprising that veteran producer Wald could have let this get away.
Cast & Details See all »
- Rating: NR
- Review: A potentially explosive courtroom drama is ruined by inept direction, a wordy script, and gross miscasting, except for Hayworth, Dunnock, Squire, and Ryder. Odets hadn't directed a film since his first, NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART, many years before, and his… (more)