Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Criminal Court (1946)

Years before Robert Wise was an Oscar-winning director of films such as WEST SIDE STORY (1961) and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965), he got his start as an RKO editor (CITIZEN KANE) and then as the director of movies such as CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944), MYSTERY IN MEXICO (1948), and tonight's movie, CRIMINAL COURT (1946).

CRIMINAL COURT stars "B" movie favorite Tom Conway, the older brother of George Sanders who in the '40s was the star of RKO films such as the FALCON series, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), and TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945).

This time around Conway stars as Steve Barnes, a defense lawyer planning to run for district attorney. Barnes's campaign is nearly derailed when his beautiful girlfriend, a nightclub singer named Georgia (Martha O'Driscoll), is erroneously charged with murder -- a murder that Steve himself was accidentally involved in! Unfortunately no one believes Steve's story and Georgia goes on trial for murder, with Steve defending her.  Only Steve's secretary (June Clayworth) has the power to save Georgia; she saw the whole thing, but her life has been threatened if she testifies.

It's a short and sweet film running only an hour. It gets a touch draggy in the middle, but it builds to a nice conclusion. As a fan of "B" crime and noir films, I found CRIMINAL COURT satisfactory, though not top drawer.

My favorite scenes were Georgia performing in the nightclub. The McHugh-Adamson songs she sings, "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" and "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night," seemed very familiar to me, and then it dawned on me they'd been "borrowed" from an earlier RKO film, HIGHER AND HIGHER (1943). HIGHER AND HIGHER is an early Frank Sinatra musical I saw several times as a child but haven't seen for decades, and it just so happens that the DVD is sitting in my stack of old favorites I'd like to revisit soon. (Update: Here is my review of HIGHER AND HIGHER.)

Martha O'Driscoll was a lovely young actress who appeared in over three dozen films in the 1940s. She starred in "B" movies and also had supporting roles in "A" pictures such as THE LADY EVE (1941) and REAP THE WILD WIND (1942). According to her IMDb biography, she retired after marrying a successful businessman in 1947; they had four children, and Martha was additionally busy on the boards of her husband's companies, volunteering at various civic events in Chicago, and cofounding a thoroughbred horse farm in Florida. She passed on in 1998 at the age of 76.

The supporting cast of CRIMINAL COURT includes Robert Armstrong, Steve Brodie, Robert Warwick, Joseph E. Bernard, and Phil Warren.

This movie isn't available on DVD or VHS; it seems like a Robert Wise "B" movie double bill, pairing this title with something like MYSTERY IN MEXICO, would be a great idea for a Warner Archive release. We can hope! (June 2015 Update: CRIMINAL COURT is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive!)

CRIMINAL COURT was just shown on Turner Classic Movies, so watch for it to turn up there again.


Blogger grandoldmovies said...

You can find Criminal Court on DVD at the Cinema Classics website (as a double feature w/The File on Thelma Jordan):

1:03 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for sharing this information!

Best wishes,

8:09 PM  

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