4 August 2017 | joe-pearce-1
Fearless Fosdick Defends a Child Murderer
The only other review appearing here more than adequately covers some of the holes in this film's screenplay, but I am a performance-oriented viewer and would rate the film more highly simply because of the plethora of excellent character actors peopling it. Amazingly, it is the lead, Jack Holt, who appears most against the normal grain as the unethical lawyer (well, legal ethics are like no others so that perhaps 'immoral lawyer' is a better descriptive). Holt, the physical model for Al Capp's Fearless Fosdick cartoon character (a take-off on HUAC and the like, if Fosdick even suspected you of doing something wrong, you were likely to end up with a big comic strip bullet hole right in the middle of your cranium) was so granite-jawed that he made Charlton Heston look like Wally Cox, and he was usually seen as the stalwart hero of Westerns, but he was getting on by 1934, and this seemed like a pretty good role to him, I would imagine. Anyway, even in his most sympathetic moments, he fails to evoke much sympathy; he just isn't that kind of actor. Jean Arthur shows up to good advantage here, only about a year away from achieving major stardom, and one has to wonder why it took so long for her to do so. Arthur Hohl, who just looked sneaky and played roles to fit, is seen here as a totally above-board district attorney who can't stand the way Holt operates, and he pulls it off (nobody ever said a crusading district attorney couldn't still look sneaky!). And instead of a semi-comic detective, Harold Huber here gets to play a mover and shaker of the city's criminal element, and is nicely authoritative throughout. But the two performances I loved (one of them with very few lines) were those of Sarah Padden as the mother of a murdered child, and John Wray as the dastardly fellow who committed that murder. Padden was one of those actresses who took every job available as the years rolled on, but back in the 1930s she had several really special dramatic roles and this was one of them. Underacting in a way we didn't see much of until the Actors Studio graduates started to populate Hollywood films, made a fetish of incomprehensibility, and mumbled their way to stardom, she was definitely ahead of her time, and she is so 'real' in many of her roles that it almost hurts. You can see the tension building up in her in her every line, and when she takes the action that finally convinces Holt that he's working for the wrong people, it is perhaps the dramatic highlight of the film. And Wray, a superb character actor who was also a director and who died fairly young, is so much of a weasel as the murderer, and so exuding of cowardice, that you almost feel sorry for the miserable creep. Both Padden and Wray seem to be totally forgotten by all but the most vociferous fans of films of the so-called Golden Age, and it is a shame, because they often stole films from both stars and better-known 'character' actors. Anyway, a film to see for its acting before any other consideration.