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  • The opening sequence is stylish, unusual, disorienting. We don't know where we are or what is going on for a few minutes, and that reflects the film's morally disorienting territory. The premise is excellent. Barrymore is not "hammy" but commanding in a very natural way; he's playing a successful lawyer who is used to declaiming his arguments for an audience. The script employs daring ambiguities: we partly want to see the rich man murdered and Barrymore get away with it, yet Barrymore is clearly not a moral character himself, and the woman who insists upon justice for the man she loved is a "tramp" mistress who would have been willing to carry on her affair with the scoundrel after his marriage. What a crew! The magnetism of Barrymore and Francis in their moral contradictions keeps us riveted even through the parts that are like any other old-dark-house mystery. The ending is both preposterous and brilliant. You can look back and see how they set it up, yet it's very difficult to predict!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Thank God that Turner Classic Movies plays these forgotten early films. Using an innovative gimmick, the film starts in the dark with three men discussing the possibility that a truly clever man could get away with murder. And former district attorney Lionel Barrymore should know - he's prosecuted dozens of murderers, but he is soon considering the other side of the law. SPOILERS: Cast against type, Barrymore is a lawyer (soon to be a murderer) working for a spoiled playboy played with intense villainy by Alan Mowbray (also out of his usual element of pompous comedic roles.) Barrymore goes to Mowbray's private island to collect pay-off checks for ex-girlfriends/victims of Mowbray's, to keep them from causing "trouble." Fiendishly, Mowbray explains he's preparing to marry a girl because that's the only way he can "have" her. And he surprises the attorney with the shocking news that it is Barrymore's daughter (Madge Evans) that will soon be his bride conquest! Barrymore seethes with anger and threatens Mowbray with murder. Mowbray counters with "You may but I'll come back from the grave to accuse you." Hours pass with charming scenes of dinner guests oblivious to this hidden war with the likes of C. Aubrey Smith and frumpy Polly Moran filling in the background. But eventually, late that night the deed is done. Will Barrymore outsmart everyone? Will Mowbray have covered all his bases to get revenge, will it appear as a suicide to Barrymore's police buddies or will Kay Francis be the fall-girl? Seeing these two actors play characters opposite for what they are known for could be a risk except the director(s) are no less than W.S. Van Dyke and Barrymore himself! Sexy Kay Francis was the reason we started to watch the film and she is fascinating, but not the only beauty. Madge Evans parades her golden locks, long lashes and a wears a see-through negligee. This pre-code murder mystery comes with an ending that will remind some of THREE ON A MATCH. I recommend you watch it during a thunder storm with the lights down low
  • Can Lionel Barrymore commit the perfect crime, for the sake of his daughter's honor, and get by with it? That's the question posed in this fine film which is NOT a "whodunit". Almost forgotten by nearly 7 decades of bigger, splashier movies, fans of crime films will not want to miss this little gem. Tightly plotted and suspenseful, GUILTY HANDS (yes, the title is important) rewards the thoughtful viewer.

    Barrymore is great, as always. Kay Francis is a shady lady with too much past. Alan Mowbray - in a welcome departure from his comic butler roles - is suave and evil. Madge Evans, Polly Moran & Sir C. Aubrey Smith round out the supporting cast.

    And what a great ending - unexpected and appropriate.
  • I always say "never underestimate a movie made in the 1930s" and this is a key example. Even though we see who commits the murder, it has the flavor of a well done who-done-it. Sumptuous sets, great costumes, the proverbial dark and stormy night -- all set a wonderful mood. The camera work sustains it, but above all, the excellent acting by Lionel Barrymore and Kay Francis make for a suspenseful thriller.

    I had heard of Kay Francis, but I don't recall having seen her in anything. She is fantastic! Barrymore is best known these days for playing the heavy in "It's a Wonderful Life", but here he is quite a bit younger, very spry, and marvelously expressive, both in inflection and mannerisms.

    I wouldn't dream of giving away the ending, which has two nice touches, but I'm proud to say I saw it coming - about thirty seconds before the climax. I was thinking, "wait, they couldn't possibly ..., not the ... " but it was. Superb! Highly recommended.

    • henry
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Lionel Barrymore gave such an unforgettable performance as the alcoholic lawyer in "A Free Soul", that, not only was he given the Academy Award, he was quickly rushed into another "angst ridden" role in "Guilty Hands", filmed only a couple of months later. "Guilty Hands" was one of the better "perfect murder" movies and both the film and Barrymore won widespread acclaim at the time.

    In his 10 years as District Attorney, Richard Grant (Lionel Barrymore) has sent more than 50 men to the electric chair - "Now that I've returned to private practise, I've kept a hundred of 'em out of it". He starts to believe that such a brilliant mind as his could commit the perfect murder. When Grant learns that his daughter is planning to marry a notorious womaniser, Gordon Rich (Alan Mowbray), who has hired Grant to draw up his will - Grant decides to put his theory to the test.

    Barbara's (Madge Evans) cast off boyfriend, Tommy (William Bakewell) is distraught and tries to make her see what Gordon is really like, as does her father - but she will have none of it. At a dinner to announce their engagement, Richard makes his feelings clear - another guest who also does - with looks alone (but oh what looks!!) is Marjorie West (stunning Kay Francis), one of Gordon's former lovers. Kay Francis' fame was fast rising and she bought an intensity to her part that was becoming a characteristic of all her roles. From the time she entered "Guilty Hands" both she and Barrymore had no trouble in upstaging all the other players.

    Later, that night, Gordon is found dead from a "self inflicted" gun shot wound to the head (or so it looks) - only Marjorie is convinced it is murder. After a dramatic showdown between her and Richard, she steals to his room and finds evidence. She finds a cut out figure fastened to a slowed down gramophone (his defence was that he had been pacing his room for most of the night). When Marjorie confronts him Richard launches into a speech "Have you ever seen a murder trial...Well, sit down and I'll show you yours!!!". Richard plans to frame Marjorie if she persists in saying that Gordon's death was foul play. Barrymore is magnificent and it is almost as spellbinding as his speech in "A Free Soul". Although the ending seems improbable, it is logically explained in the movie. "Guilty Hands" was director W.S. Van Dyke's first venture into the mystery genre, although it definitely wasn't his last - "Penthouse" (1933), "The Thin Man" (1934), "Manhattan Melodrama" (1934) and "Hideout" (1934) proved he would become a master of the genre.

    Highly, Highly Recommended.
  • utgard1430 April 2014
    District attorney Lionel Barrymore is angered when old friend Alan Mowbray says he plans to marry Barrymore's daughter Madge Evans. He tells Mowbray (in a surprisingly funny scene) that he will kill him if he tries to go through with the wedding and he can get away with it because he knows so much about murder. Well, Mowbray goes ahead and announces the engagement and, sure enough, Papa Lionel kills him. The question now is will he get away with it or will Mowbray's longtime lover Kay Francis figure him out?

    Very nice direction and a particularly lively performance from Barrymore. Mowbray is only in the film for a brief time but he's sufficiently scuzzy to make you root for Lionel to get away with offing him. Kay Francis is good in her typically melodramatic fashion. The great C. Aubrey Smith is largely wasted in a minor role. Beautiful Madge Evans plays her part as well as can be expected given that the script makes her out to be a little bit of an airhead and a tease. She kisses her father on the mouth a lot and not just pecks either, which I found odd. But I've seen similar things in other films from the period so I'll just chalk that up to different sensibilities today. It's a good movie with an interesting twist at the end that some will probably see as a cop-out.
  • For the sake of his daughter (Madge Evans), who wants to marry a playboy cad (Alan Mobrary) old enough to be her father, Lionel Barrymore is the lawyer who thinks he can get away with the perfect crime by making it possible for her daughter to marry a wealthy young man (William Bakewell) rather than the unsuitable cad.

    The tale is taut, told with bits of humor and suspense on a dark night full of lightning and thunder. The old dark house elements work well within the confines of the contrived plot which has a bit of irony in the final twist which comes in a very abrupt and unexpected ending.

    Performances are what you'd expect from a melodramatic film made in '31, and Lionel Barrymore gets his usual chance to chew most of the scenery with some help from Kay Francis as a woman he decides to throw suspicion on. His plan backfires in the final scene.

    Interesting, if contrived, it's satisfying enough as a mystery to keep the attention riveted throughout.
  • Pretty good murder story in a pre-code kind of way. Lionel Barrymore plays the local legal-eagle, as well as the irate father of the soon-to-be-bride, his daughter intending to marry his old friend, the biggest cad he knows. He tells the fellow he will murder him-justifiably in his mind-if won't give her up, and we see him do so. He even has arranged witnesses to "prove" he could not be the murderer, but the dead man's longtime love, played by a lovely Kay Francis, suspects him from the start.(Her scene at his body is not her best, however.) She then discovers the imprint on a piece of paper of a note the dead man had written before he was murdered, showing that Lionel had threatened to murder him. Of course Lionel is right there when she finds it, and explains in lawlerly detail how she will appear in a trial, since she is the beneficiary of the will.

    So will Lionel be caught for his misdeed? Or is the one of the pre-codes when murderers do not have to pay for their crime? Lionel Barrymore gives his usual strong, if sometimes over-the-top, performance. Kay plays well in a major supporting role. The rest of the cast is adequate in their roles, but the film is mostly between Lionel and Kay.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Guilty Hands" was made in 1931, but it looks ahead of its time - both technically (the opening sequence is particularly impressive) and thematically (it tells the story of a "justifiable murder" - and the murderer is the main character!). There are strong doses of black humor in the dialogue ("Gordon Rich was entirely responsible for his own death"), the "alibi" is a very clever one, and the ending caps it all off with a nicely ironic touch. The film also offers two absolutely gorgeous (though largely forgotten today, sadly) women - Kay Francis and Madge Evans. It's easy to see why Francis was so popular especially in the early 1930s; apart from being beautiful she is also very expressive. Madge Evans is charming, while Lionel Barrymore plays the main character with an appropriate and enjoyable hamminess. **1/2 out of 4.
  • Guilty Hands (1931) Kay Frances, Lionel Barrymore, Madge Evans, Alan Mowbray. Babs(Evans) is wooed and won away from her young sweetheart by older cad, Gordan Rich(Mowbray). Her father, Barrymore(Richard Grant) vows to kill him and get away with it if he won't stop seeing Babs. Marjorie(Kay Francis) loves Gordan and sees what happens. . She threatens to unmask the real killer. It would take a few more years to have films made from the camera point-of-view This is melodrama 1931 style. Most actors came from the stage; lots of scripts were reworking Plays; directors also had mainly stage training. So, if we today criticize, using todays standards, it is very unfair. This is a fairly interesting plot, with mostly pros in the title roles. The star in Barrymore and he is good. Kay Francis has lovely fashions to wear, and holds her own. And because it is pre-code, a surprising ending. 7/10 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0021933/
  • Lionel Barrymore did play some villains in his time, but this is quite an unusual role for him. He's not an altogether dark character as he was in Rasputin and the Empress or "The Show". Here he's all shades of gray. The same for Kay Francis as the mistress of a truly horrible creature whom she loves and is willing to continue seeing after his marriage. In the opening scene, totally dark but for the silhouettes of two men to whom Richard Grant (Barrymore) is speaking, he gives his theory of how the perfect murder is possible and how murder might possibly be justified, and since he's sent four dozen to the gallows as prosecutor and spared eight dozen more as a defense attorney, he's seen murder cases from every angle.

    This is all academic until Grant reaches his destination - the estate of his client Gordon Rich (Alan Mowbrey). Rich tells Grant he is going to marry Grant's daughter Barbara, his only child, and the only thing he has to remember his long lost wife by. Having been Rich's attorney for some time Grant knows Rich will only bring his daughter unhappiness since he's quite the remorseless wolf, so Grant tells Rich he'll murder him as part of the perfect crime if he goes through with this marriage. Rich isn't intimidated, and neither can Grant convince his daughter of Rich's bad character. The marriage is to occur the next day.

    Later that night a woman's scream is heard in Rich's study, everyone races into the room, and there is Gordon Rich laying dead from a bullet wound to the chest, apparently self-inflicted since his gun is still in his hand. Before his death Rich has instructed his servants to watch Grant all night long and inform him if he leaves his room. They witness Grant's silhouette as he paces the floor in his room and nothing else.

    Now, of course, the fact that Grant did it is no secret to the viewer and furthermore Grant conveniently takes charge of the investigation until the police arrive. Only Marjorie (Kay Francis), Rich's long-time mistress objects to Grant's self-serving theory that this is suicide and she claims it is murder. However, if it is murder, Marjorie is the most obvious suspect since she would not inherit anything if Rich rewrote his will as he was planning, due to his impending marriage. So she had both jealousy and money as motives. Nobody else knew about Grant's threat on Rich's life except Rich, and he is in no position to tell anyone. So it's tricky business for Marjorie to insist on a theory that might cost her not only Rich's fortune but her freedom and her life.

    So the rest of the film is a cat and mouse game between Marjorie - who suspects Grant from the start - and Grant, and for most of the film it is Marjorie as the mouse - the keyword being most. Did I forget to tell you that before Rich died Barbara decided not to marry him due to a goodnight kiss that almost turned into a rape, making the murder the height of irony?

    This film has lots of atmosphere and a very well-paced screenplay, but if there is any reason to watch it is Barrymore as Grant whose real downfall is having been around murder cases so long that it has become like sport to him, causing him to lose the perspective of justice needing to be served. This film has an ending that is really nifty even if it is far-fetched. Highly recommended.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This movie gets off to a good start: we hear but do not see a man (Lionel Barrymore with his so distinctive voice) expound as to whether or not murder is ever justified and if the perfect murder can be committed. Barrymore as Richard grant is a former District Attorney who has prosecuted many murderers. He is on his way to an estate to draw up a new will for his client Gordon Rich (Mowbray). Mowbray convincingly portrays a truly nasty and repulsive human being who informs Grant that he plans to marry Grant's daughter. Grant threatens to kill him. The daughter's (Babs) attraction to Mowbray to the point where she insists she will marry him is unfathomable. This is, for me, the weakest part of the plot. Rich ends up dead and his mistress Marjorie West (Francis) insists that it was murder despite Grant's persuasive argument that it was suicide. Second weak plot point – West's hysterical insistence that it was murder is way overdone and not believable and her doing the "noble" thing at the end of the movie does not ring true. The ending was a shocker (although kinda silly) and, in hindsight, I should have seen it coming. It was Barrymore's performance that made this movie for me. There was one plot devise that falls into the category of "what a coincidence." The same week I saw this movie, I also watched Boston Blackie's Chinese Venture. Although each had a slightly different spin, both movies used the same basic gimmick to establish alibis. A gimmick I don't remember seeing in any other movie and to see it twice in one week was weird.
  • blanche-219 February 2011
    Lionel Barrymore has "Guilty Hands" in this 1931 film also starring Kay Francis, Madge Evans, and C. Aubrey Smith. When attorney Richard Grant (Barrymore) finds out that his daughter Barbara (Evans) is about to marry a playboy, Richard threatens his life. Richard has long believed it's possible to commit the perfect crime; now, in order to save his daughter from a disastrous marriage, he has his chance and takes it at a dinner party. It's all for naught - Barbara has realized that she's in love with someone else and decided not to marry Gordon. Too late.

    Richard then goes along with an investigation of the murder. Kay Francis plays Richard's old girlfriend who also becomes a suspect.

    This is very much an early talkie, complete with the big, dramatic acting, especially by Barrymore, that came from stage actors who appeared in films back then. It was the style, and while it seems hammy today, in 1931, it wasn't. Kay Francis as usual is lovely and does a fine job in her role.

    The ending is very interesting. It's hard to judge these films when seen today. By 1931 standards, though, this is a good movie.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The premise is one I have thought about on several occasions--is it okay to kill a person since that person is essentially selfish and evil? And, if you say yes, can it be done in a way where you can get away with it and live with yourself? Well, the movie examines these questions though at the very end the film seems to back-peddle a bit and supplies a very contrived ending.

    Lionel Barrymore is in top form in this film. Always an exceptional actor, he's younger and more vigorous here and so you see him doing more and being more action-oriented than usual. His daughter is planning on marrying a thorough cad (played by the perfect cad, Alan Mowbray). Despite Barrymore pleading with her and the awful fiancé, they are determined to marry. So, Barrymore tells Mowbray that if Mowbray doesn't change his plans, that he will murder him! You'd think this would be enough to convince the evil husband-to-be to change his plans but he doesn't. Considering just how perverted and selfish Mowbray is, you really are cheering Barrymore on when he commits the seemingly perfect murder. However, as Hollywood was loathe to condone murder (even when the guy is scum through and through), they create a neat but ultimately unsatisfying ending that never actually answers the question about the justification for murder. The acting and idea are excellent--the wimpy ending isn't and tends to blunt the entire experience.
  • Guilty Hands (1931)

    This is a terrific movie.

    I usually start with reservations or a mixed bag of comments, but my lasting impression at the end of this was, wow, great writing, great acting, superb pacing (editing) and excellent filming all around. It takes chances, has some really nice moving camera work (now and then) and some night stuff (with a pseudo-flashlight). And it clicks and makes sense. Even the first scene is just fabulous, two barely visible men as they talk in the shadows about the perfect murder.

    Key, in every way, is the leading man, Lionel Barrymore. He's always good, and usually great, and he's great here. An ex-D.A. and now defense attorney, he's drawn into crime by the apparently wayward feelings of her daughter (who wants to marry a cad). And it quickly gets messy, but in a very very neat way. The writing is surprisingly fresh and the acting (and reading of these lines also filled with spontaneity and life.

    There is, oddly, the last minute or so that will drive some of you mad—with anger or disappointment. And I can't breathe a word about that, except to say the rigor mortis never had such a wonderful moment in a movie.

    The daughter is the ostensible female star, Madge Evans, who is a goodie goodie and likable. But far better is the competing leading female, Kay Francis, who steals every scene. She was the star of the period at Warner Bros (though only after this movie, which is MGM) and you can see why. See it for her alone—her role increases as the film goes on.

    Not to overlooked is the writing, which scintillates and is sassy and alive at every turn. Barrymore makes this really come forward, but it's the writing itself that gives him something to work with. (The director, Willard Van Dyke, is assisted by Barrymore, without credit, so he may have had some influence on his remarkable presence here.)

    Then there is the final scene, which unfortunately will make most people laugh out loud. Too bad. Maybe think of it as just part of the arch drama at hand, and the idea that it's all pretense and fun. And don't let it ruin what came before. Great stuff.
  • Baceseras14 March 2017
    An inside-out murder mystery, one in which you know who dunnit and watch only to see if he can get away with it, "Guilty Hands" gets right down to business, as it has to - this isn't the kind of material that can take much stretching. It's already a bit of a stretch. But in a good way.

    At just over an hour, the film is essentially a programmer, never meant to be the main attraction of a night's entertainment. Exhibitors would pair it with a bigger picture, and add a couple of specialty shorts, choosing from among the available cartoons, song plugs, and travelogs. A night at the movies ca. 1931 set the pattern for a night around the TV-set in later decades. On that analogy, "Guilty Hands" is like a middling-to-better episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; it even sports an opening hook worthy of that show: a voice in the dark, talking of crime, says that a really clever fellow might commit a perfectly undetectable murder - and that under some circumstances, murder might be justified.

    The dark room turns out to be the smoking lounge of a train passing through a long tunnel, and soon after we come into the light the speaker, a lawyer who has in his varied career both prosecuted and defended murderers, finds himself in a tight spot that practically invites him to put his theory into practice. Lionel Barrymore, as the lawyer, leads a cast who do nothing short of a good professional job of putting across the high and low mischief that ensues. Barrymore's target, a rich rotter played by Alan Mowbray, is so dried out with debauchery that it comes as a surprise how much fight he has in him when he knows he's a marked man - cussedness seems to get his juices flowing. Soulful-eyed Kay Francis, as Mowbray's lover and (she hopes) Barrymore's nemesis, moves with the right mixture of languor and ardor - her character is half vamp, half noble sufferer - but she's been directed in one scene into some hambone-pantomime attitudes of terror, a style of acting that was already terribly old-fashioned in 1931. She does it expertly, and she's so beautiful we'd want to go on watching her anyway; still, the fustian is unfortunate. Less lucky in their roles are Madge Evans, as Barrymore's daughter, and the lad who plays her ideal young suitor: both characters are so bland the actors can do nothing with them but say their lines and try not to look too foolish. They manage it, and the film doesn't linger over them.

    Not lingering is the movie's best tactic for wriggling past its occasional weaknesses, especially the implausible motivation of that daughter character - she is possibly a watered down version of whatever the writer originally intended. The brisk pace comes from the makers' showbiz savvy; and if there was watering down, it was likely caution based on the same kind of wisdom about "what the traffic will bear." Those pre-code movies were seldom as daring as they're now cracked up to be; they were bent on entertaining, and a little bit of salaciousness could stir the plot - but they tried not to leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth.

    Come now, what masques, what dances shall we have, to wear away this long age of three hours between our after-supper and bed-time? "Guilty Hands," plus a couple of shorts - and another, better movie, thanks.
  • Offbeat little programmer that plays like a whodunit, but without the mystery. We know from the outset who killed the bounder Gordon Rich (Mowbray). The fun is in watching the narrative unfold like a Charlie Chan, except it's the killer, of all people, who assembles the "suspects" and gathers the clues. In that respect, it's an interesting variation on the standard whodunit of the time.

    Watch for cult actress Kay Francis as the dark haired Marjorie. With her distinctive looks and strong personality, I can see why Francis has remained a favorite with old movie fans. Also, there's the lovely Madge Evans as the winsome daughter. Too bad she's become so obscure given her obvious talents. And at least the notorious Lionel Barrymore, in the lead, hams it up less than usual.

    A kind of philosophical question is posed in the subtext. That is, is murder ever justifiable. Certainly, getting rid of the unprincipled Gordon Rich, who's ruined the lives of many young women, poses the question sharply. At the same time, the movie responds to the issue in an interesting and unexpected way. All in all, the movie is dated in many respects, but is still worth catching up with.

    (In passing—catch the primitive sound effect of thunder that sounds like someone is snapping a Kevlar tarp! I expect in 1931, the studios were still perfecting their sound effects.)
  • In the first scene of this film, a lawyer (Lionel Barrymore) is explaining to friends on a train that he believes there are some cases when murder is justifiable. When could that be, they ask. I know it when I see it is the gist of his reply, and as he's sent men to the electric chair and saved them from it, he somehow believes this entitles him to this view. Soon we see him with a rich client (Alan Mowbray), a man who uses him to pay off dozens of women and young girls after having affairs with them. One was a 16 year old who jumped out a window to her death afterwards, but the implication is that he might have pushed her. He somehow believes his wealth entitles him to using up women and spitting them out, and murder as well if it's necessary.

    In a fantastic turn of the plot, these two vipers are pitted against one another when Mowbray tells Barrymore that he intends to marry his daughter (Madge Evans), a woman half his age and the joy of the lawyer's life. Knowing what a scumbag this guy is, he naturally resists, threatening him and appealing to his daughter, without recognizing the irony of having had no issues assisting him in his depravity with other women. Kay Francis appears as the long-time lover of the rich man, and her character is not happy with his decision to marry either (though he assures her that they can go on just as before). The events that ensue take place on a dark and stormy night in a mansion, and for being such a lean story, it's very well told by director W.S. Van Dyke. There is atmosphere, tension, strong dialogue, and some great moments from Barrymore, who dominates this movie despite a cast that is quite good. The ending is cute but quite hokey, though the very last moment is one of those classic little pre-Code moments, and brilliantly subversive. I could be rounding up a teeny bit, but regardless, it's worth seeing.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I don't think anybody in Hollywood history ever considered Alan Mowbray a sex symbol of any means, but in this pre-code drama, he is the lecherous lothario who has set his sights on best friend Lionel Barrymore's daughter Madge Evans and has manipulated her into becoming engaged to him. She's a young innocent, and I found it hard to believe that she would choose portly Mowbray over the dashing William Bakewell who is in love with her. Mowbray has jilted the glamorous Kay Francis in favor of Evans, and at a dinner party celebrating the engagement, Barrymore lets on that he approves, while underneath as both a well respected attorney for the defense and the prosecution he is plotting to kill Mowbray and get away with it. When he sees a possible motive for murder with the furiously jealous Kay Francis, he sets into motion the opportunity to blame her for Mowbray's murder, but just as everything seems to be going off as planned, shocking twists turn his scheme around, leading the way to a stunning conclusion.

    Having defended his daughter Norma Shearer for a murder he committed in "A Free Soul", Barrymore now takes on a more scheming fatherly role here and is captivating. Many of his later performances were more hammy in nature than his famous profile brother John Barrymore, but here, Barrymore is excellent, especially as he harasses Francis with the ideas of how he will prosecute her and have it appear as if she was the guilty party. Mowbray, a delightful mustache twirler, definitely deserves to face the wrath of some poor girl's father, so the tension is thick as Barrymore stalks his prey. This is without a doubt an extremely dated and stagy story, but fills the screen with some delightfully melodramatic performances, including Francis in one of her best before she went onto become Hollywood's most long suffering mother. Even with a sincere performance, I just never could believe Evans' fawning over Mowbray and even threatening to run away with him if Barrymore didn't accept her decision. With all these deficiencies, the film still remains a completely exciting glimpse into a world of perversion that just a few years later would not be able to be done or even re-released without some major editing.
  • Guilty Hands (1931)

    ** (out of 4)

    A lawyer (Lionel Barrymore) believes murder can be justifiable under certain circumstances and he takes his chance when he daughter gets ready to marry the wrong guy. This mystery is somewhat interesting considering when know Barrymore is the killer yet we get to watch him investigate the murder. Barrymore is pretty good in the role, although he goes over the top a few times like no other actor can (well, perhaps John was better at it). The ending also has a nice, if silly touch but the rest of the film is forgettable with way too much dialogue for its own good.
  • Guilty Hands is listed as the film Lionel Barrymore followed with after his Oscar winning performance for A Free Soul. Nothing is truer in the film business than if something succeeds, follow it with several imitations.

    In A Free Soul Barrymore played a defense attorney who defends gangsters but doesn't want them courting his daughter. In Guilty Hands Barrymore is a former prosecuting attorney who does not like the news that a playboy client wants to marry his daughter Madge Evans and take her away from her earnest sweetheart William Bakewell. He says that he will kill the client Alan Mowbray and soon to prevent it.

    And by God he does kill him and really cleverly as well, it looks like suicide. However the Mowbray's former mistress Kay Francis is well on to him. Even though he was throwing her over, Francis is still carrying a torch.

    By 1930 at least this cast of players had mastered the technique of sound film and there was no overacting even in a film like this which goes melodramatic. I was impressed by Kay Francis in the climax where Barrymore with his years of criminal justice experience walks the local police through the scene and has them convinced of suicide. Yet your main focus is on Francis who with her expressions conveys a gallery of emotions as she knows the truth, but Barrymore has her cowed.

    Guilty Hands, a decent followup to A Free Soul is way melodramatic, but still has a certain fascination. Watch Francis in this, she really is something.
  • WS Van Dyke did a number of films well worth watching. Some even great, namely 'The Thin Man', 'The Prisoner of Zenda', 'I Love You Again' and much of 'San Francisco' (his Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald collaborations are also charming watches). 'Guilty Hands' sounded great in terms of the story (being a fan of the genre) and it is hard to resist a film with a cast this good, that leaves one psyched for seeing a twist for the ages as advertised and that has been reviewed this favourably.

    'Guilty Hands' is another Van Dyke film well worth seeing and mostly lives up to high expectations, even if it is not one of my favourites of the genre and there are films with relatively similar concepts that are more successful in this regard. 'Guilty Hands' has Van Dyke's style all over it, the cast is reason to see it alone and there are so many things that were done right. Anybody that likes mysteries and noir-ish thrillers should find much to enjoy.

    It is a great looking film, with some suitably unsettlingly inventive photography in the opening sequence. An opening sequence that gave me the chills and is brilliantly shot and edited, Van Dyke's accomplished style and technical efficiency shines the most in this scene. All without being cheap or rushed-looking. The lighting has a lot of atmosphere too and the production design is elegant yet suitably ominous. The music is moody and Van Dyke's direction is tight and accomplished.

    As is much of the script. It is a little too talk-heavy, but the black humour which comes in heavy doses genuinely amuses and much of the script provokes thought. The story is compelling, with an intriguing mystery that keeps one guessing and has a good deal of suspense, it doesn't get too predictable and it doesn't get over-complicated either. Lionel Barrymore dominates 'Guilty Hands' without being over-dominant, he was never the most subtle of actors but he was always fun to watch and he is very much so here. Kay Francis is sensual and engages with the drama without being too theatrical. Alan Mowbray excels too against type, being effective at playing a sleaze to sinister effect.

    By all means 'Guilty Hands' isn't perfect. As said, it is talk-heavy in places. Babs' change of character later on came over as too rushed and introduced in too out of the blue a way to ring true.

    Despite the final twist actually being quite clever and definitely unexpected, the very end is rather too abrupt and towards the end it is a little too on the silly side.

    Overall though, well done. 7/10
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This intriguing films has an unusual beginning that starts in the dark in a train. But you know that great distinctive voice of Lionel Barrymore! And how he explains (he's a DA ) that some murders might be justified. And his theory will soon be put to the test.

    Honestly considering the despicable character of Gordon Rich (Mowbray), Richard Grant (Lionel Barrymore) almost seems justified in what he did. Gordon Rich most likely responsible for pushing a 16 year old out a window years ago, along with other questionable dealings with women over the years. And now he wants to marry Mr. Grant's daughter!

    He carries out the 'perfect' murder. And Marjorie West (Kay Frances)ruins his plans. The interchange between these two are the best part of this film. Lionel is always amazing showing his great skill before he would be unfairly stereotyped. But not all stereotyping is bad. It kept his name on top! It could of had a better ending but I loved everything else about this early film. Highly recommended but don't judge it by today's standards.
  • The mystery here is not the identity of the murderer (since we see the build-up and the murder itself) but where this is all leading and how it will all be resolved.

    'Guilty Hands' starts atmospherically in the dark before adjourning to the usual elegant mansion (complete with thunderstorms outside!) where what ensues resembles the play it is; embellished with some pretty sharp dialogue from author Bayard Veiller and stylish photography from Merritt Gerstad.

    Several previous users have commented on what an unlikely lothario Alan Mowbray makes, his harem including a sultry Kay Francis, who makes her entrance rather late in the proceedings usually dressed in black and dramatically lit from below, and who gets the final closeup after things have got wilder and more and more melodramatic by the minute as it heads for its extraordinary conclusion.
  • The awesome, versatile Lionel Barrymore is the DA in this early talkie from MGM. when a real creep Gordon (Alan Mowbray) threatens to marry his daughter Barbara (played by Madge Evans), the DA says he could commit the perfect murder if he wanted to. But, it turns out Gordon the scoundrel DID have more enemies. the sound and picture are in remarkably good quality, for such an oldie. seasoned viewers will recognize Aubrey Smith, who was in EVERY black and white film as the grandfather, the general, or the uncle. Kay Francis is in here as Marjorie... Francis was about the only actor here who hadn't started in silent films. although one of her first films was in the Marx brothers' "Cocoanuts"! what a way to start. Written by Bayard Veiller; he was known for writing so many murder mysteries and detective stories. This one is pretty good! some interesting twists and turns along the way. they are showing this one on Turner Classics now.. only 500 votes so far!
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