Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Within the Law (1939)

WITHIN THE LAW is a fast-paced MGM "B" movie with an outstanding lead performance by Ruth Hussey as a woman unjustly imprisoned for theft.

In this remake of Joan Crawford's PAID (1931), Hussey swiftly takes her character, Mary Turner, on a 65-minute journey from sweet young miss to dazed prison inmate to embittered woman. Mary uses the legal education she obtains in the prison library finding novel ways to exact revenge on the man (Samuel S. Hinds) who sent her to jail. Among her plans: marrying the man's nice guy son (Tom Neal).

Hussey is outstanding. She's on screen the majority of the film's running time, and she makes the most of it in a very interesting performance. The following year she had her career high role as Liz Imbrie in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940). Hussey had a substantial career, with at least 67 film and TV credits, but one wishes she'd had the opportunity to reach even greater heights, as she certainly had both the talent and the looks.

Tom Neal initially looks like a bit of a goofball, but that helps make him believable as Mary's mark. His dogged niceness eventually wins over both Mary and the viewer. Sadly, off the screen Neal's life was a different story. Although he had a lengthy career of over 80 credits, after 1951 acting roles mostly dried up when he seriously beat Franchot Tone in a dispute over actress Barbara Payton. In 1965 Neal was charged with the murder of his wife Gale, and he ended up serving six years for manslaughter. He passed away shortly after his release from prison in 1971.

Mary's best friend from prison is played with flair by Rita Johnson, seen by me last weekend in EMERGENCY HOSPITAL (1956). Paul Kelly, always a welcome movie presence, plays the shady character carrying a torch for Mary.

The excellent cast also includes Lynne Carver (Bess in MGM's 1938 A CHRISTMAS CAROL), William Gargan, Sidney Blackmer, Paul Cavanagh, James Burke, and Donald Douglas. The film was directed by Gustav Machaty.

There's more information about Ruth Hussey in a recent post at True Classics and in a biographical article published in Classic Images.

WITHIN THE LAW is not out on DVD or VHS, but it has been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.


Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

I love this film--though I could definitely see this as an "A" picture starring Myrna Loy (whom Hussey reminded me of--wonder if she was contracted by Mayer as another threat to Myrna a la Rosalind Russell?). Having read the play upon which this film and the earlier Crawford vehicle is based, this follows the source material more closely than Paid, though both are equally enjoyable. It's a shame Ruth Hussey's most recognized role was Liz Imbrie because with the right material, she was electrifying onscreen.

1:33 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Evangeline! I agree, at times Hussey's appearance and performance were strongly reminiscent of Myrna Loy, particularly in the later sections of the film.

Was interested to learn this version followed the play more closely. I recorded the Crawford version fairly recently so it will be interesting to compare when I catch up with it.

Best wishes,

8:40 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for that one, sounds pretty interesting.

12:01 PM  

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