24 January 2014 | MartinHafer
John Barrymore is very good but the courtroom hysterics are downright embarrassing.
According to IMDb, John Barrymore's character in "State's Attorney" was based on a real attorney, dapper William J. Fallon. How close the character is to Fallon, I have no idea--though I strongly suspect that Fallon's story and this one are very, very different. This is because there are LOTS of hysterics in this one--so many that you just cannot believe the film has any semblance to real life.
The film begins with Barrymore playing Attorney Tom Cardigan. Cardigan seems to be perpetually inebriated--a role to which Barrymore was well suited. However, despite his drinking*, he is an expert attorney who always seems to win. So, he's a valuable asset to mobsters and other low-lifes who need him to help them beat the rap. In the process of doing his job, he meets a woman (Helen Twelvetrees) and they fall in love. While the film never comes out and says it, it's strongly implied that she becomes his mistress.
Surprisingly, his mobster friend has an idea--make Cardigan the State's Attorney where he can be even more helpful to the mob. However, it soon becomes apparent that Cardigan means to do this job well--and not use it as a revolving door for criminals. Cardigan now is interested more in becoming the next governor as opposed to becoming a rich, satisfied lawyer. What's next? See the film.
Because it's a film about lawyers, it's not surprising there are several courtroom scenes. However, to me this was the low point of the film as too often the proceedings became ridiculously melodramatic and shrill. Folks on the witness stand begin screaming their guilt, women break down and cry and, ultimately, Cardigan makes speeches instead of defends or prosecutes. It's a shame, as Barrymore was a fine actor but these scenes tend to bring down the overall quality of the movie. Fair but it sure should have been a lot better.