Thursday 20 March 2008

Strange Justice (1932)

Rose Abbott is a hat check girl for whom extravagant banker Henry Judson has fallen quite hard. She refuses to take advantage for herself even when offered plenty but she does get her ex con boyfriend Wally a job as Judson's chauffeur. Now Judson seems to be on the up and up but he's been fleecing his bank dry for a long while in order to finance his lifestyle, and his calculating assistant manager L D Waters blackmails him into continuing and paying out half the profits to boot. The only way Waters gives Judson to get out but to keep suspicion away from the bank is to set up a dubious fake murder scheme that will send Wally back to prison.

It's a very obvious story for a precode and there are some notable precode names involved. The leading lady is Marian Marsh, one of the perkiest beauties of the era who made some notable early precodes like Svengali with John Barrymore, Five Star Final with Edward G Robinson and Beauty and the Boss with Warren William. It's always good to see a Marian Marsh movie, as she always appears to me as the epitome of the thirties girl yet somehow also someone far more modern, and she has another intriguing young lady to bounce off here who I didn't know very well at all.

She's Nydia Westman, who tended to play quirky women of more than her own age, and I've seen her in a couple of Bulldog Drummond movies playing the wife of Reginald Denny's character. This was her movie debut and Denny is here too playing Judson. He has to deal with Waters, played by Irving Pichel who had been making movies as an actor since sound came in but was just starting out as a director in 1932, co-helming The Most Dangerous Game, shot back to back with King Kong. Wally is another young director, Norman Foster, best known for having his name on Orson Welles's Journey into Fear, but who made many of the Mr Moto and Charlie Chan movies.

As a movie this is good old precode fun but it's creaky too. A lot of the staging and direction is very flaky and I wonder if the budding directors in the cast took the clumsiness as a lesson for future reference. Given that actors like Norman Foster and Richard Bennett, who plays an Irish lawyer with a knack for losing, have some great scenes but some truly awful ones too suggests that it's the direction more than anything else that's at fault.

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