9 December 2015 | AlsExGal
This little programmer crams a little bit of everything into just an hour
First off, the synopsis is wrong. Paul Kelly plays prosecutor Douglas Goodwin who, in the first minutes of the film, sends a very guilty guy (Robert Cummings as Jimmy Ellis) to the chair. Actually, only the judge can do that, but Goodwin did ask for the death sentence and got it. As they lead Jimmy off he even admits guilt, saying he would not have killed the guy had he been sober. Goodwin does not think he is sending innocent people to the gallows. He's in love with his secretary (Marsha Hunt as Claire Patterson), but he's been separated for a long time from a woman who will not give him a divorce.
Next, the estranged wife shows up where Doug and Claire are eating out, calls Claire a home wrecker, makes a scene, and then runs out. Doug makes all kinds of vague threatening statements in front of strangers like "She'll pay for this!" or "I'll get her!". Goodwin goes to his wife's penthouse and asks her for a divorce, even offering to give her all of his assets. She refuses because she never wants him to remarry and be happy. Bernadene Hayes plays the wife, and she is just an awful harpy during her entire performance, badgering her poor maid when nobody else is available. This is one thing I didn't get. She has a maid, furs, and lots of jewelry - yet she is married to a civil servant? Something does not add up. Then, right after Goodwin leaves, his estranged wife walks into her darkened bedroom and catches a burglar stealing her jewelry. She screams out, Goodwin hears the struggle and reenters the bedroom. As he enters, the burglar shoots the wife dead and jumps out the window. Goodwin picks up the burglar's gun and shoots at the burglar, believing he has wounded him in the shoulder.
Now Goodwin looks bad circumstantially speaking. There were all of the threats he made in front of people, plus the fact that his fingerprints are all over the murder weapon and the only person who could vouch for him is dead - his late wife a victim of having a poorer understanding of "your money or your life" than Jack Benny has.
There is no time for courtroom theatrics in this fast paced B, so Goodwin is tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, and is now a resident of death row along with Jimmy Ellis, the guy he just sent to the chair in his last case as prosecutor. Funny thing about this film. People under sentence of death are on a separate "death row" for a reason - they have nothing to lose by trying to escape. Yet here they are allowed to mingle with each other in one big cell part of the day! Basically you have three story lines here in this 60 minute film. You have Harry Carey as a state senator trying to repeal the death penalty in the state, with Goodwin initially opposing him. Then you have Goodwin sweating it out on death row. Finally, you also have the investigation into finding that burglar, the existence of which could clear Goodwin. Specifically Jerry Welch is trying to find that burglar or his doctor. The complicating factor - he is in love with Goodwin's girlfriend, Claire. Is Jerry on the up and up, or is he stalling for time so he can have Claire by fair means or foul? Watch and find out.
There are a couple of things that are over the top and s bit preposterous. For one thing, we are to believe that Goodwin has a change of heart by being on death row himself. The big difference here is that everybody else killed somebody, and Goodwin is innocent. That is never mentioned. These guys did not get here by dropping out of Sunday school. There are a couple of eye rolling moments such as having Goodwin appear before the senate to plead for the repeal of the death penalty the day before his execution, and then there is a jungle gym like device on the way from death row to the electric chair that one of the men doing his last walk decides to scale, refusing to come down. Art designers, there is a reason that last mile is nothing but bare hallway and THIS is one of them.
Will Senator Nash get his death sentence repeal bill passed? Will the burglar be found? Does the investigator even want to find him? Watch and find out. It truly keeps your interest regardless of what side of the death penalty argument you are on.
And now a word about Paul Kelly, who plays the starring role. He actually has a little bit of experience in this type of situation. He spent three years in prison for manslaughter for duking it out and accidentally killing the husband of the woman he was in love with. She did time for obstruction. Yet when they both got out they got married, the incident did not hurt Kelly's career at all, and he worked steadily in films his whole life and stayed married to the woman "he killed for" until her death. Kelly was the kind of tough guy with charm that B action filmmakers were looking for in the 30's, this is one of those films, and it is an essential in my opinion if you are a fan of his acting style. Highly recommended.