8 December 2018 | boblipton
Reforming the Good Bad Lawyer
Jack Holt is a criminal defense lawyer who always get 'em off. Jean Arthur has just graduated with a law degree and wants to work for him. As she observes his methods, she discovers that what he says about himself is true: he has no legal ethics and is a publicity hound. As he is in the middle of defending a kidnapper and child murderer, she comes to him with an ultimatum from an earlier case: he has suborned perjury.
It's the second movie that Holt starred in under the direction of Lambert Hillyer, with Joseph August as the cinematographer. Hillyer and August went way back; for half a dozen years, they were the director and cameraman for William S. Hart. This was the last of 22 movies they did together, and it's a visual treat.
The standard shot in this one is a portrait two-shot, with one person talking and the other watching, cutting to a solo reaction shot. Only in the two-shots between the leads is there a visible reaction for the first fifty minutes, and then others begin showing their emotions: first Donald Meek as Holt's clerk, then others. It's a very cinematic technique of showing the growing openness of the characters, presaging the changes that make this a well-told story instead of a series of anecdotes. Also, this being a Columbia film, it should be noted that it's a cheaper way of shooting, rather than longer takes with more people to break down and make retakes necessary.
There are other nice touches to this movie, particularly the way that sound man Edward Bernds uses the sounds of newspaper plants to snap the audience from one scene to the next. Although this story of how idealistic young lawyer Jean Arthur reforms old, bad lawyer Holt -- which sounds a lot like a lot of William S. Hart movies in which a young Christian woman reforms Hart -- is nothing much in the writing department, Hillyer makes a very good movie thanks to his professionalism and that of the people he is working with.