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original title: Criminal Lawyer
duration: 1h 14min
keywords: murder, lawyer, judge, bodyguard, courtroom, waiter, verdict, usa, stockfootage, shyster, reporter, receptionist, prosecutingattorney, politics, politician, policeman, policeofficer, policecaptain, ne
The major storyline shows his decline into a drunken depression when his sly ways prevent him from getting a judgeship he so desperately wants. When his right hand man (giant Mike Mazurki in his best performance) is accused of murdering one of O'Brien's rivals, he must pull himself together to defend him, even though the cards are stacked against him. Mazurki is almost wife-like to O'Brien, loyal to a fault, and at one point, even wearing a woman's kitchen apron while preparing for a dinner party. This gentle giant (the Brad Garrett of his day) is obviously not all there, yet his devotion to his employer is very touching.
Future "Father Knows Best" wife Jane Wyatt (already a veteran movie star) is very good as his loyal secretary, with outstanding character performances by T.V. veteran Marvin Kaplan, Jerome Cowan and Douglas Fowley. This is a neat little "B" courtroom drama with a few film noir elements (included on a five film DVD of forgotten Columbia Film Noir) that is well written, very well acted, and filled with those little details that make this type of cinema great for a look back at what made the golden age so great and why not all the cinematic gems are those whose images are usually seen in Academy Award edits or AFI tributes to the various genres of the best years of cinema. "Criminal Lawyer" is a "B" list programmer that is saved by the performance of Pat O'Brien in the lead role. O'Brien plays criminal lawyer James Reagan who wins his cases in dramatic fashion by employing unethical but legal tricks. He also has a penchant for the bottle.
After getting Vincent Cheney (Mickey Knox), the brother of gangster Harry Cheney (Douglas Fowley) off, Reagan announces that he is giving up his practice with the expectation of becoming a judge. He turns over the firm to his associate Clark Sommers (Robert Shayne) who has been doing all of the preparatory work leading up to Reagan's dramatic entrances at the end of their trials.
Reagan is denied the judgeship by high end lawyers led by Tucker Bourne (Carl Benton Reid) and D.A. Walter Medford (Jerome Cowan) on the grounds that he uses unethical means to win his cases. Disappointed, Reagan turns to the bottle. However, Bourne is forced to come hat in hand to plead with Reagan to defend his nephew Bill Webber (Daryl Hickman) of a manslaughter charge involving a traffic fatality.
Reagan reluctantly takes the case and gets the young man off. While preparing to celebrate, Reagan is confronted at his front door by the widow of the man killed in the Webber case, Mrs. Johnson (Mary Alan Hokanson) who shows him the effects of having freed her husband's killer. Reagan devastated, disappears into the bottle and cannot be found.
Reagan's man Moose Hendricks (Mike Mazurki) fearing the worst goes to confront mobster Harry Cheney. Cheney however turns up murdered and Moose is charged with the crime. Loyal secretary Maggie Pewel (Jane Wyatt), gofer Sam Kutler (Marvin Caplan) and receptionist Gloria Lydendecker (Mary Castle) try to locate Reagan while Sommers begins to try the case. Suddenly a disheveled Reagan turns up and..............................................
Pat O'Brien had a long and varied career. He played mostly priests and cops in his Warner Bros. films of the 30s and 40s but goes in a different direction this time around. He portrayal of the boozy lawyer is one of his best. Jane Wyatt has little to do but be ever faithful to her boss. There appears to be a one way attraction going on, however Reagan does not seem interested. His relationship with Moose is something else again and since this was 1951, we can only speculate. The identity of the real murderer is not to hard to figure out which detracts from the film's dramatic finish.
Jane Wyatt would soon go on to appear in the long running TV series "Father Knows Best". Another TV veteran, Amanda Blake appears briefly as a receptionist. Louis Jean Heydt appears as a court reporter.
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