28 September 2005 | Doylenf
Vincent Sherman steals the spotlight in his scene with Barrymore...
Not long ago I bought a copy of STUDIO AFFAIRS by Vincent Sherman (director of many Warner melodramas starring either Bette Davis or Joan Crawford), and among his film credits was one he made when he was a very young stage actor repeating his role for the film version of COUNSELLOR AT LAW. Here he plays the young activist Communist who gets beaten up in Union Square for preaching anti-government rhetoric.
He all but steals the thunder from JOHN BARRYMORE, who is of course the star of this seldom seen film from the early '30s that gave William Wyler his first opportunity to click as director of an A film.
Barrymore is a Jewish lawyer from a humble background who finds himself facing serious charges that could lead to his being disbarred from practice. At the same time, he discovers that his wife would rather go on with her European trip than stand by him--and furthermore, suspects that she is having an affair with another lawyer (Melvyn Douglas).
As if one director in an acting role isn't enough, you also get a chance to see Richard Quine as one of Barrymore's bratty kids--Quine went on to be featured in a number of MGM films before turning his talents to directing.
Only drawback: the whole film is directed at a breathless pace, words coming forth fast and furious in a manner not even Roz Russell could top in her best Girl Friday mode. The art deco office sets are fascinating (the story supposedly takes place in the Empire State Building), but the dialog is handled by Barrymore and others in such speedy bursts of speech that you better listen carefully to catch whatever nuances there are. This was a style common in the early '30s but it can get a little too breathless at times.
Surprisingly, Barrymore handles all the fast dialog with skill (if a bit overly melodramatic at times). And yet, all in all, interest is maintained throughout. Isabel Jewell as a busy receptionist gives a comical but stereotyped turn as a switchboard operator.