Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Accusing Finger (1936) at Cinecon

THE ACCUSING FINGER (1936), a 61-minute Paramount Pictures programmer, was one of the interesting films I saw at last weekend's Cinecon Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.

Paul Kelly stars as Douglas Goodwin, a highly successful prosecutor who has sent any number of men to Death Row, most recently young Jimmy Ellis (Robert Cummings).

Goodwin is romantically interested in his sweet assistant, Claire (Marsha Hunt), but he's unable to act on his feelings as his wife Muriel (Bernadene Hayes) refuses to give him a divorce. One night Doug and his wife are arguing when she startles an intruder who's after her jewels and is shot and killed.

Everyone knows Doug wanted his wife out of the way and he's convicted of murder and sent off to Death Row, where he gets an unwelcome reception from some of the prisoners he put behind bars. Meanwhile investigator Jerry Welch (Kent Taylor of FIVE CAME BACK) races against time, working with Claire to find evidence which will clear Doug. Complicating matters further: Jerry falls in love with Claire himself.

This was a fast-paced pip of a movie which used creative editing to move the story along at breakneck speed. It's not always pleasant -- watching Cummings' (admittedly guilty) character go to the electric chair is disturbing -- but it's always interesting and mostly enjoyable.

The three leads are all appealing; it's hard to believe the beautiful, self-possessed Hunt was only 19 when this was made. (What a treat to have her in the audience watching along with us! She turns 100 next month.) The always authoritative Harry Carey Sr. plays a senator fighting the death penalty who also has a close family friendship with Claire.

It's the kind of movie where the viewer suddenly realizes the prison inmate singing a mournful tune is John Carroll, before he was a bigger name...where the audience applauds when Ward Bond is recognized as one of the prison guards...with William Hopper (PERRY MASON) and the seemingly ever-present George Chandler playing reporters (darn, I missed also spotting Dennis O'Keefe!)...frequent baddie Joe Sawyer has an uncharacteristic role as a cigar-smoking prison chaplain...and reliable actors like Paul Fix, Jonathan Hale, Fred Kohler, and DeWitt Jennings round out the cast.

The movie was directed by James P. Hogan and filmed in black and white by Henry Sharp.

THE ACCUSING FINGER is a terrific example of the studio system at work; it may be short but it's stylish, polished filmmaking with a terrific parade of faces throughout. I'd love to see this film become widely available, but like so many Paramount films of this era, it's not available at this point in any format. Universal, which owns the rights, provided a beautiful print for the festival.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Sounds terrific, Laura! Absolutely my kind of movie. Paul Kelly was never less than riveting.

11:21 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Would love to see this. How wonderful to have Marsha in the audience.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It really was good! And you're so right about Paul Kelly. I felt as though his own real-life background spending time in prison gave the story some added weight.

Best wishes,

11:12 PM  

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