"Proto-Noir" marathon at the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival was LET US LIVE (1939).
LET US LIVE stars Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Sullivan, directed by John Brahm. Brahm would go on to direct the "gothic noir" HANGOVER SQUARE (1945) and the psychological film noir THE LOCKET (1946).
The increasingly despairing jailhouse sequences both reflect back on the great gangster films of the early '30s and anticipate film noir, where the "wrong man" would also be a familiar theme.
Fonda is quite shattering, as his personality gradually changes under the weight of being disappointed by "the system" at every turn. He has a speech which seems to look forward just a bit to his famous closing speech in THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940).
It's a nice part for O'Sullivan, as a woman who refuses to give up and is ultimately willing to risk her life to prove her husband-to-be is innocent. Bellamy is also good as a cop who initially doesn't seem to care overly much about the case but gradually becomes unnerved when he realizes he's been a cog in a rigged system.
One of the aspects of the movie which bothered me was the D.A. (Stanley Ridges) saying his job was simply to get a conviction. I wish the movie had made clear that the D.A. was wrong throughout the film in part because a D.A.'s job is actually to seek justice, not convictions (see 1947's BOOMERANG for an illustration of same). The character was thus not only wrong in ignoring additional evidence, he flat-out wasn't doing his job.
The cinematography was by Lucien Ballard, who also filmed another movie seen in the festival just a few days ago, BERLIN EXPRESS (1948).
LET US LIVE is available on DVD from Sony Choice.
Next up from the Noir City marathon: My favorite film of the night, HEAT LIGHTNING (1934).