30 March 2021 | kevinolzak
Richard Dix and Boris Karloff
1931's "The Public Defender" was a superior follow up to Richard Dix's previous teaming with future Monster Boris Karloff, an opportunity for the screenwriter of "Young Donovan's Kid" to get his feet wet as a first time director, J. Walter Ruben. George Goodchild's 1930 novel "The Splendid Crime" was adapted by Bernard Schubert into the prototype of the Batman origin story, Dix the crime fighting millionaire acting the fool in public as Pike Winslow, secretly working undercover as "The Reckoner" (the original working title, as well as "The Million Dollar Swindle"), with Karloff's studious Professor gathering all the evidence from a huge file base, Paul Hurst's chauffer Doc supplying the brawn in a pinch. In a nod to the recent stock market crash, we see here the Central Realty Trust Company throwing its most trusted member overboard for embezzlement despite his pleas of innocence, his three guilt ridden accusers failing to reckon with the expertise of The Reckoner, who leaves a calling card indicating the scales of justice. Pike Winslow and his two associates meticulously plan ahead to the exact second, whether it's robbing a safe to obtain valuable documents, or even having to solve a shocking murder planting evidence to implicate The Reckoner. The only thing missing is the background on how these three came to become partners in crime solving, apart from the fact that they were all veterans of WW1, apparently conducting business in the guise of The Reckoner well before the picture begins (the final title makes it sound like the saga of a district attorney). The year's Best Actor nominee for Best Picture Oscar winner "Cimarron," Richard Dix enjoyed another triumph with this tale of vigilante justice during the Great Depression, making one wonder if Batman creators Bob Kane or Bill Finger may have recalled this film before debuting the Caped Crusader in 1939. The May shooting schedule must have been a favorable one for Boris Karloff, his most prolific year yet in Hollywood even before being cast three months later as The Monster in James Whale's "Frankenstein," a sturdy 10 minutes screen time (the same size as the part in Universal's upcoming "Graft") in what amounts to playing Alfred the Butler, entering at the 17 minute mark. Leading lady Shirley Grey made her feature debut as Pike's love interest, eventually leaving Hollywood behind with her final role opposite Bela Lugosi in the 1935 British production "Mystery of the Mary Celeste."