Attorney Richard Grant (Lionel Barrymore) is dismayed to learn his adored daughter Babs (Madge Evans) plans to marry Gordon Rich (Alan Mowbray), whose outrageous womanizing history includes the "accidental" death of a teenage girl at his home. Babs won't listen to reason and break the engagement; she's inexplicably drawn to Rich, even though she also rather loves nice guy boyfriend Tommy (William Bakewell).
Attorney Grant, who has prosecuted many murderers, threatens to kill Rich if he goes through with his plan to marry Babs, and what's more, Grant pledges that he'll get away with it.
Sure enough, on the night before the planned wedding, Rich is found dead. It's a suspected suicide, but Rich's longtime lover Marjorie (Kay Francis) insists it must have been murder.
This is a well-crafted film with an intriguing story. It's got the classic premise of a diverse group of people in a house with a body on the proverbial dark and stormy night, but the script goes beyond the cliches.
The two lead characters, played by Barrymore and Francis, are both morally ambiguous -- each willing to do things which are very wrong, yet both also determined to seek their own style of justice. The film presents some unusual moral dilemmas, as well as a nifty ending which resolves the issues neatly. I do have to say I saw the ending coming from the minute the coroner started to examine the body!
Don't be put off by the confusing opening, which has characters speaking in the dark; I actually fast-forwarded the film to make sure it had recorded all right, then realized what was going on and rewound.
The supporting cast includes Sir C. Aubrey Smith, Polly Moran, Forrester Harvey, Charles Crockett, H.G. Barrows, Sam McDaniel, and Blue Washington.
GUILTY HANDS was directed by W.S. Van Dyke, whose best-known film is probably THE THIN MAN (1934). According to IMDb, Lionel Barrymore also served as an uncredited director.
This film hasn't been released on DVD or video, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. I recorded it two years ago when Kay Francis was Star of the Month. Given how many Kay Francis films I taped that month -- nearly three dozen! -- it's perhaps not surprising it has taken so many months to finally see it. It's been fun having a backlog of Francis films which I can periodically enjoy.
This is a good one to watch on a dark and stormy night!
April 2016 Update: GUILTY HANDS is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive in the Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 10.