Monday, July 7, 2014

Come to think of it, I've seen Midnight Court before

When I was looking through the TCM schedule this morning to see if there was anything to do a full-length post on, the title Midnight Court didn't ring a bell. Heck, even the TCM synopsis and the cast didn't sound familiar. It wasn't until I saw the synopsis on my TV box guide that I realized that I'd seen the movie before. It's on tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM, and if you like the B movies that Warner Bros. was putting out in the 1930s, I think you'll like this one.

John Litel plays Victor Shanley, who at the start of the movie is drunk at a seedy bar that gets raided, sending him and a bunch of young people to night court a half century before the TV sitcom of that title. Shanley was actually a prosecuting attorney before becoming a derelict, so when he appears before the court, he goes into a screed against the corruptitude of the legal system. Meanwhile, his old girlfriend Carol (Ann Dvorak), who apparently still has a flame for Victor, takes him to her place to try to sober him up.

Victor, amazingly not having been disbarred, winds up taking a job with local crime boss Al Kruger (William Davidson), because he needs the money. And as is a trope in these movies, going from being on the "right" side fo the law to the "wrong" side immediately becomes profitable, as Victor earns a tidy sum getting the small-time people working as Al's minions (in this case a car-stealing racket) from going to jail and spilling the beans. Victor even takes pity on one of these minions, young Bob Terrill (Carlyle Moore, Jr.). Bob really wants to get into engineering, and only wound up getting into crime because he was more or less tricked by Al and his gang. So when Victor offers Bob a chance to get out of crime by paying for Bob's tuition. Of course, once you get into crime, it's difficult to get out, especially if you're stupid enough to tell your boss that you're getting out of crime....

Midnight Court is typical of the B movies that Warner Bros. was making at the time (it came out in 1937). It's breezy, packing a lot into a short running time, with a bit of social consciousness. Everybody is competent, but the movie never really rises above being the sort of movie that was churned off a production line to fill the public's demand for new movies. Note how many tropes show up here: the washed up drunk; meeting an old girlfriend; the sympathetic young kid who shouldn't be involved in any of this; and the idea that working for the defense not only will immediately be profitable, but is also somewhat immoral. Still, Midnight Court is entertaining enough, if nothing great. If you like old B movies, you could spend 63 minutes in a far worse way than by watching Midnight Court.

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