13 November 2006 | Camera-Obscura
Hard-boiled and fast-paced social commentary with John Barrymore in great form
Based upon the play "Counsellor at Law" by Elmer Rice, John Barrymore shines in this depression-era drama as George Simon, a Jewish lawyer who frantically juggles the scandals, crimes and crises that pass through his art deco office high in the Empire State Building. Simon is far from perfect and engages in insider trading and bleeds funds from wealthy clients, while tending to the needs of the less fortunate New Yorkers who come from his own working-class background. Everything seems to be going pretty well for him, but when a political enemy uncovers a past legal indiscretion and begins disbarment proceedings, Simon's socialite non-Jewish wife (Doris Kenyon) walks out on him and seeks comfort in the arms of another man (Melvyn Douglas). With the unflagging support of his faithful secretary (Bebe Dabiels in a truly magnificent performance) Simon attempts to exercise his legal skills to defend his reputation and protect those who rely upon him for justice.
Is George Simon a modern-day Robin Hood? In a sense he is, but he is far from perfect. Simon doesn't seem to grasp the many of his wrong-doings and largely blames his downfall on the outside world. John Barrymore gives a rich and very credible performance as a rags-to-riches Jewish lawyer, despite his Waspish appearance and Bebe Dabiels as his loyal secretary Miss 'Rexy' Gordon really gives a stand-out performance. A typical film of the era, fast-paced, and very stagy with the camera never moving out of the office, but thanks to Wyler's crisp direction and a superb cast this still makes very agreeable viewing, although the ending is so abrupt, I had to rewind in order to see what happened in order to see the last twenty minutes again. Everything goes so incredibly fast, attention must be paid.
Camera Obscura --- 8/10