Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Twilight of Honor

When I first blogged for the Thursday Movie Picks at the beginning of the year, one of the movies I selected was Twilight of Honor. I didn't realize when I watched it some months back that it was available on DVD, but yes, you can get it from the TCM Shop thanks to the Warner Archive. But it's also showing up on TCM tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM, so now is a good time to do a fuller-length post on the movie.

The movie starts off with the police showing up in a cop car at the courthouse in a small New Mexico town amongst a mob of people. Out they bring Ben Brown (Nick Adams). The mob is there because Ben stands accused of killing one of the town's most prominent citizens. We then see the judge call on young lawyer David Mitchell (Richard Chamberlain). Ben needs a defense attorney, and David has been selected, most likely because he's inexperienced especially with the defense bar and would make for easy pickings for the ambitious special prosecutor (James Gregory) who wants to use this case as a stepping-stone in his career.

David takes the case, mostly because he doesn't have much choice, but also because the man he looks up to, retired attorney Art Harper (Claude Rains) pushes him and wants to help. Art would have been the logical choice to take the case if he hadn't had health issues that forced him to retire. But Art thinks that helping David is just the thing he needs to keep him alive. Art's daughter Susan (Joan Blackman) plays nursemaid, as well as a possible love interest for the widower David.

David investigates, and finds that there's more than meets the eye. Apparently he must have seen Anatomy of a Murder, because he comes to the conclusion that while Ben clearly did kill the man (at any rate, he's confessed to it), there's an obscure New Mexico law that justifies it on the grounds that the victim, Cole Clinton (Pat Buttram), was engaging in unwanted sexual advances on Mrs. Brown (a very young Joey Heatherton). The prosecution can't force her to testify, of course, and she doesn't seem so willing to testify, in part because she may actually have been interested in those sexual advances.

I mentioned Anatomy of a Murder earlier, and I suppose I could have mentioned Witness for the Prosecution too, what with the lawyer who's supposed to be retiring for heatlh reasons. If Twilight of Honor has problems, it's that it feels really derivative, as well as being a relative afterthought. One of the IMDb reviewers mentions that if it had been made a few years later, it would have been a perfect candidate to be a TV Movie of the Week, and would have been a very good one. (It's far better than Perry Mason reruns.) And that's the thing: everybody in the movie gives a professional effort, and the results are more than adequate. Yet all the individual effort seems to add up to something a bit less than special. George Bailey talking about Lee Remick's panties is shocking; Richard Chamberlain going on about Joey Heatherton's sex life just sounds skeezy.

Still, Twilight of Honor is more than worth a watch, and not just for Claude Rains.

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