Saturday 7 April 2007

The Star Witness (1931) William A Wellman

This seemed to be a comedy for a while, with various young children arguing about grandpa's war experience and over who gets to lick the spoon that made the chocolate cake. It turns out to be a legal thriller that focuses on the Leeds family that comprises more than two kids with character. There's Jackie, a young man who ought to be out earning finding a profession but is too buy hanging round a poolhall; Sue, a young lady with a beau; traditional parents who earn money and look after their own; and a drunken grandfather who pops in out of the blue and takes over. In short, they're a typical American family, hardly anything out of the ordinary. I know some of the actors: Grant Mitchell, as the father, and 'Chic' Sale as Grandpa. I'd know Dickie Moore too, but given that he was only six years old at this point I really didn't recognise him.

Given that Nat Pendleton is in the movie though, there are going to be gangsters soon and sure enough, there's a shootout in the street between two cars. The bad guys kill the good guys right outside their house and head right through it to escape the police. Walter Huston is a crusading District Attorney again, one that knows Maxey Campo did the job and wants to send him to the chair, but he needs the help of the Leeds family to put him here. However the gangsters have many methods of persuasion that they're eager to employ.

The plot is decent but hardly groundbreaking, even for 1931, the same year William A Wellman made The Public Enemy with Jimmy Cagney. It's just the standard 'don't buckle under pressure' message that merely sounds a lot more fun coming from the mouth of a character like 'Chic' Sale. The DA is too crusading, the family too gutless and the gangsters too one dimensional, with the single exception of Mickey, a former ball player who has somehow descended into just being another guy in a mob while remaining at least some kindness to children. His story would probably have been better than the one we saw here.

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