The Saggy D.A.

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Let me see… I saw CRIMINAL COURT, an early RKO Robert Wise B-movie (but not produced by Val Lewton — interesting how largely bland that makes it), and quite enjoyed it (Fiona: “I’m loving the plot in this!”) but a day or two later it’s sort of dissipated from my mind. What do I recall?

Tom Conway is a hotshot lawyer, a defence attorney who’s about to run for DA on an integrity ticket (that’s a thing, right?). He’s obtained hidden camera footage of gangster’s brother Steve Brodie delivering bribes, which he runs for guests at a party — he gives great parties: canapes, cocktails and incriminating evidence. But he gets a call from the top mobster (Robert Armstrong — King Kong’s boss) threatening him, so sneaks out while the projector is whirring and visits the guy at his swank nightclub (all gangsters run swank nightclubs). During a scuffle, the gangster draws a gun, Conway slugs him, the gun goes off, and the gangster is killed. Oh, wait, Conway actually slugs him FIRST, then wallops him a second time when the gun is drawn. Right.

Conway returns to his party and nobody has missed him — he has the perfect alibi. But his girlfriend (Martha O’Driscoll) works as a torch singer at the gangster’s club — I know! — and she walks in, picks up the gun, says, “I shot him!” in a loud voice and then “No!” in a quiet voice, and gets herself arrested. NEVER do this. “I shot him,” is something you should definitely not say at a crime scene, unless it’s true. It confuses people.

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What with his integrity and everything, Conway confesses as soon as he realizes his gf is in the frame. But everyone is so used to his courtroom antics — oh yeah, he pulls stunts like drawing a pistol and panicking the court in order to show what happens when people see a gun — that nobody will believe him. He has the perfect alibi, is a known play-actor, and his girlfriend looks unbelievably guilty.

BUT Conway’s secretary has been secretly working for the mob boss, and was secretly present the night of the self-defense/accidental killing, and secretly witnessed it all through a secret hole in the wall. Conway realizes this when she betrays knowledge of the incident she couldn’t otherwise have, forces her to testify, and then has Steven Brodie and his accomplices nabbed when they try to rub her out.

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There, that wasn’t so bad. My senility isn’t as advanced as I feared. Conway is free to marry the girl, and everyone is so impressed by his integrity that he’s now a shoe-in for D.A. Killing that guy and running away won’t hurt his chances at all — if anything, everyone likes him better than they did before.

Hmm, have I got that right?

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7 Responses to “The Saggy D.A.”

  1. chris schneider Says:

    Martha O’Driscoll’s two songs — “I Couldn’t Sleep A Wink Last Night” and “Lovely Way To Spend The Evening” — were written for young Sinatra in HIGHER AND HIGHER, RKO’s adaptation of a Rodgers & Hart show. The single of the first song is particularly to be recommended.

  2. In “Higher and Higher” Frank Sinatra plays a character named. . .Frank Sinatra. He’s a singing butler.

    I love crooked lawyer movies. The 30’swere full of them.

  3. This being the 40s, he’s somehow not crooked, despite actually killing a guy and running away!

  4. I commend to you the pre-code Perry Mason mysteries starring Warren William. To the distress of Mason’s straight-laced author Erle Stanley Gardner, these films portrayed Mason as a gleeful shyster whose clients are almost incidentally innocent.

    His secretary casually admits they grapple on the office floor (he marries her a few films in); he deceives police on a regular basis; and he’s not above hustling for new clients during the inevitable wrapup. A trailer for the first film shows various guilty-as-hell types expressing their faith in Mason.

    He also lives the high life more outrageously that Nick and Nora Charles: In one he’s dining out with the coroner, a fun-loving old codger. When the coroner gets called to the morgue, they move their dinner into the examination room and discuss the murder victim while noshing.

    William seemed to specialize in flamboyant good guys (see “Satan Met a Lady”, a wacky version of “Maltese Falcon”) and razor sharp bad guys. He left after four films, and Warner made two more Masons with blander leading men.

  5. I kind of like the way that series kept recasting the supporting players: since secretary Della Street is played by a different gal almost each time out, WW seems even more of a philanderer. Sidekicks keep changing, and Allen Jenkins plays two different characters for no reason.

    And in one film, his client really IS guilty, and he gets her off. You can’t get any more pre-code than that.

  6. Tom Conway appeared in three of Lewton’s films and was famous as “George Sanders’ nicer brother”.

  7. Or sometimes “the nice George Sanders.” And in The Falcon series he was brought in as the character’s brother and then took over. Interest does dip, I have to say.

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