Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #130: Legal Thrillers

This is my first time doing the Thursday Movie Pics run by the Wandering Through the Shelves blog. This week's theme is legal thrillers, and I've decide to select three old ones:

They Won't Forget (1937). Claude Rains stars as Andy Griffin, an ambitious prosecutor in a southern town. There's a murder of a teenage girl, and eventually suspicion falls on poor innocent northerner, Robert Hale (played by Edward Norris). Much of the case is about the trial and the aftermath. Claude Rains is technically miscast as a southern DA, but it's Claude Rains. He was even more woefully cast in his career (They Made Me a Criminal springs to mind), but you overlook it because of course it's Claude Rains, and he's just so darn good. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie is that it's based on the real-life case of Leo Frank.

Twilight of Honor (1963). Claude Rains shows up again, this time at the end of his career. There's been a high-profile murder in a New Mexico town, and an ambitious prosecutor wants to use the case to advance his career. To do so, the authorities impress young David Mitchell (Richard Chamberlain) into being the defense attorney, something he feels woefully unsuited to do. But with the help of his girlfriend's (Joan Blackman) father, a retired lawyer played by Claude Rains, Mitchell tries a daring defense similar to the one in Anatomy of a Murder. Apparently this one has been released to DVD via the Warner Archive collection; I thought it hadn't which is why I never blogged about it after I finally got around to watching it.

The Paradine Case (1947). This time, it's Gregory Peck playing the defense attorney, a London barrister named Anthony Keane. He gets tasked with the defense of Madame Paradine (Alida Valli, credited only under her surname), accused of murdering her husband with the help of her valet lover (Louis Jourdan). Keane falls for Mme. Paradine, which is a problem, since he's already married (to Ann Todd). Charles Laughton plays the judge, and Charles Coburn plays Paradine's solicitor (remember, in English law, solicitors can't try cases in court, which is why he has to bring in Keane). Everybody is good, even if the Americans are decidedly not British.


joel65913 said...

Great choices! They Won't Forget is a mean movie. I was surprised when I watched it that the resolution was actually more realistic than I had expected. That's always a plus but I can't say it was a pleasant view. Claude Rains is improbably cast but as you said...hey it's Claude Rains, the mention of They Made Me a Criminal (otherwise a highly enjoyable film) is most apt.

Glad to see someone else has seen Twilight of Honor! It would have benefited from someone more dynamic in the lead, say Paul Newman or Alan Bates, but a solid film and again Claude Rains made anything better.

I was terribly disappointed by The Paradine Case. I knew of its reputation as a minor Hitchcock before I watched it but I figured with that cast it would still be better than it was. I like Gregory Peck quite a bit but he was too young for the part but that would have been okay if the film hadn't felt so inert. Still a misfire by Hitchcock is better than many other films, unless we're talking Topaz-ugh.

Love that you went with older films, they can oftentimes be forgotten. I try and do a mix of newer and old when they fit the theme. I'm a big fan of this genre so the pickin's were easy this week.

Primal Fear (1996)-Martin Vail (Richard Gere) a big time Chicago attorney who loves the spotlight and isn’t overburdened with scruples takes on pro bono, for both the challenge and the publicity, the seemingly unwinnable case of angel faced choir boy Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) accused of viciously slaying a much loved priest. The case leads him down many dark corridors and ultimately to a crisis of conscience. Expertly acted by a top flight cast, Laura Linney, Frances McDormand, Andre Braugher and Alfre Woodard (great fun as a tippling no nonsense judge) among many others, but the standouts are top liner Gere and Norton who is simply astonishing in his screen bow.

Suspect (1987)-An esteemed judge commits suicide shortly after giving his secretary a package. The next morning the secretary is found dead in the Potomac with her throat cut and almost immediately a mute homeless man (Liam Neeson) found with the dead woman’s wallet is arrested for the crime. His case is assigned to public defender Kathleen Riley (Cher) and it seems a straightforward case. Once the jury is empaneled though one of the jurors, lobbyist Eddie Sanger (Dennis Quaid) notices some inconsistences in the case and surreptitiously tries to pass his suspicions to Kathleen without subverting the trial. They secretly team up when those suspicions grow darker and both find their lives threatened. A trifle farfetched but suspenseful legal thriller with good performances, cast and direction. Excellent opening credits set the mood of the film up well.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)-In London when wealthy widow Emily French is found bludgeoned to death suspicion falls on struggling inventor Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power in his last film), a somewhat shiftless acquaintance of hers. He turns to well respected but thorny barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) to take the case. Fresh out of hospital and attended by a constantly flummoxed nurse Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester-Laughton’s real life wife) Robarts at first declines but after an entreaty by Vole’s wife Christine (a scene stealing Marlene Dietrich) he takes up the case which is loaded with twists and turns aplenty. Splendid adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic story enacted by a cast that couldn’t be better and superbly directed by Billy Wilder.

Myerla said...

Haha. I was thinking "Claude Rains? Playing a southerner? That just doesn't fit" though I am a fan of Claude Rains so I may check your top two out.

Katie Hogan said...

Not seen any of these but the first two Claude Raines films sounds great!

Birgit said...

I have not seen these films but I love Claude Rains and I know what you mean in They Made Me a Criminal. the paradise Case has been on my watch list for years. Welcome!:)

Brittani Burnham said...

I haven't seen any of these, but The Paradine Case sounds interesting because of Gregory Peck.

Paskalis Damar said...

Haven't watched any of it. Honestly, I suck at classic films. They're out of my repertoire. But I like reading you words about The Paradise Cane, seems interesting but I doubt I will get any access to it.

Dell said...

Haven't seen any of these, but they do sound great. Need to check them out.

Sonia Cerca said...

I haven't seen any of these, but they sound great, especially The Paradine Case.

Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

I was surprised to see The Paradine Case isn't particularly available on DVD, considering that it's a Hitchcock film. There are a lot of parallels between that one and Witness for the Prosecution.

Claude Rains is one of those people who makes almost anything watchable, and made a wide variety of movies. Heck, he even outshines Cary Grant in Notorious.

Wanderer said...

Haven't seen any of these. I don't usually see old films unless they're the super popular and super accessible. I didn't even know The Paradine Case is a Hitchcock film, and I have seen a fair amount of his films.