2 April 2002 | tashman
Capital Social Statement
This is not a Clara Bow vehicle, and yet it is clearly the aspect/asset of Clara Bow which elevates a fairly serious melodrama to a timeless and profound social statement. Opening the film on death row where the handsome youth awaits the chair, a stirring test of the legal system evolves after two elite types conspire to expose its inadequacies. Elite, jaded society lawyer Gordon Harrington fabricates a murder, implicating an entirely "hired" fall-guy, one Dan O'Connor, while the bored playboy-type hides away on a yacht until the points are proven and the legal system has been disgraced. Naturally, something goes wrong, the playboy really turns up murdered, and O'Connor is now the accused, imprisoned murderer scheduled to be hanged. Then Clara Bow takes over and it's an exciting race to the finish. George Hackathorne gives an effective performance as Dan, his early energetic confidence slowly eroding behind bars as he faces CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. Bygone silent lead Elliott Dexter is coldly calculated as the lawyer who had more to lose than he ever imagined. SUNRISE vamp Margaret Livingston is gorgeous, sophisticated, and nearly as jaded as Dexter. Although Mary Carr is a bit much in an oddly one-note "devastated mother" routine, the character actors are excellent, including George Nichols, Alec B. Francis, Wade Boteler, and Fred Warren. Robert Ellis creates enough interest as the playboy, the snarly volunteer "victim," that you do feel bad when he gets it, and you feel bad, too, when future COLLEGIANS' heavy Eddie Phillips offers a brief, effective bit as the doomed, handsome youth awaiting the chair at the top of the picture. After a few short scenes introducing her character, Clara Bow, portraying Dan O'Connor's spirited young fiancé, really stays away from the proceedings until things turn bad for her man. Thereafter, Clara Bow serves as the action device. Her unbending faith and fearless determination blend nicely with her own famous traits, i.e., the beauty, the warmth, the positive, seemingly unlimited energy, and a heart as big as Kansas. This force of personality helps to make CAPITAL PUNISHMENT a fast moving, thought-provoking social drama.