Thursday, June 04, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Mr. District Attorney (1947)

This year I've been having a terrific time becoming more familiar with the films of actor Dennis O'Keefe. As a matter of fact, four of his films are among my favorite new-to-me films seen thus far in 2015: ABANDONED (1949), COVER UP (1949), WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950), and LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN (1955).

Next up to watch was O'Keefe's Columbia Pictures film noir MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY (1947) -- not to be confused with his 1941 film of the same name. More on that below!

The 1947 MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY has a grand cast including Marguerite Chapman, Adolphe Menjou, Michael O'Shea, Jeff Donnell, and George Coulouris.

O'Keefe plays attorney Steve Bennett, who is hired as an assistant district attorney by Head D.A. Craig Warren (Menjou) after refusing to defend a crook. Steve does a fine job in the D.A.'s office, but he's got one problem, his love for the conniving Marcia Manning (Chapman). Chapman has never been more stunning than she is in this film so it's easy to understand why he's hung up on her!

Warren sends Steve out of town on assignment for a prolonged time, hoping he'll forget about Marcia -- who marries wealthy crook James Randolph (Coulouris) while Steve's away. Steve is so upset with Warren's interference that he quits the D.A.'s office and considers representing Marcia's husband.

Steve is invited to discuss his new job at a dinner party at the Randolph apartment, a gathering which comes to an unexpected end when another attorney, Ed Jamison (Ralph Morgan), takes a swan dive off the balcony. Supposedly Marcia went out on the balcony and found it empty, but Steve finds a pin from Marcia's dress with Ed's body, which hints something far more sinister took place...

I found MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY engrossing, enjoyable noir fun, with Chapman's Marcia a deliciously amoral and self-centered femme fatale. O'Keefe's Steve is a little more dense than his typical character, but I chalked it up to his being blinded by love!

O'Shea and Donnell are wonderful in support. O'Shea did a similarly strong job as a wisecracking reporter in the previous year's SMART WOMAN (1948), and he's a lot of fun here bantering with the irascible Menjou. Donnell, seen earlier this week in POST OFFICE INVESTIGATOR (1949), doesn't have enough screen time, but she always adds a little extra something to the proceedings when she's on camera.

Funny thing, I was just reminded today that Donnell was the Quartermaines' housekeeper Stella on GENERAL HOSPITAL "back in the day" when I watched (the '80s). How did I forget that? She and Anna Lee (Lila Quartermaine) sure brought some "vintage film class" to that soap.

One of Randolph's henchmen looked incredibly familiar, and I deduced that his name is John Kellogg (left). You may not know the name, but anyone who watches film noir knows the face!

The cast also includes Steven Geray. The film was directed by Robert B. Sinclair, with photography by Bert Glennon and the uncredited Henry Freulich.

This is one of those cases where I don't know what the person who reviewed the film for Maltin's Classic Film Guide was watching. 1-1/2 stars, really?! Sure, there were some bits of hokey dialogue towards the end, but I found this movie entertaining for all of its 81 minutes. Yes, you can see the ending coming a couple minutes in advance, but perhaps that's just because it's so fitting! This was a 2-1/2 to 3 star film, as far as I'm concerned.

It's an interesting bit of trivia that half a dozen years previously Dennis O'Keefe had starred in another film titled MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY (1941).  Like the 1947 film, the 1941 version was loosely inspired by a radio show of the same name. However, O'Keefe played a completely different character in the earlier film, and the movies apparently have nothing to do with one another. The 1941 version can be found on DVD in VCI's Forgotten Noir and Crime Vol. 4 set. (2020 Update: Here is my review of the 1941 film.)

The 1941 film also had a Region 2 release in the UK -- but the cover, seen here, is a publicity still from the 1947 film! That's Marguerite Chapman, not Florence Rice.

This 1947 version of MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY is available on DVD from VCI in the Forgotten Noir Vol. 3 collection or as a single-title release. It's a beautiful print, save for a couple seconds when the screen goes dark shortly after Ralph Morgan's character goes off the balcony.


Blogger barrylane said...

Robert B. Sinclair, director of Mr. District Attorney was married to Heather Angel and murdered in front of her when a burglar broke into their apartment.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Barrylane, thank you for sharing that sad piece of Hollywood history, I had no idea. Reading further, I see it was a student at UCSB who committed the crime. Wow.

Ironically Heather Angel has been on TCM tonight in the BULLDOG DRUMMOND series. Here is her Los Angeles Times obituary which makes brief reference to Robert Sinclair's passing.

Best wishes,

6:37 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this film as much as I, Laura. O'Keefe is an actor who has grown in appeal to me too over the years.
I have that Vol 3 "Forgotten Film Noir" too and rather enjoyed the two companion films also. Hope we'll get to see a review of them in due course too??!!

11:53 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for asking, Jerry! I reviewed HI-JACKED from that collection a while back (here); still looking forward to seeing RINGSIDE.

Best wishes,

12:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a mix up, the two films with the same title and both starring O'Keefe.
Must catch up with the later film. Thanks for the review.

1:10 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Sorry, memory isn't what it was!

3:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

You and me both, Jerry! LOL.

Best wishes,

11:36 AM  
Blogger John G. said...

I've only seen the earlier version and thought it was unexpectedly good for these "Forgotten Noir" volumes. It's been awhile, but IIRC it was almost more comedy than noir. Maybe it was just the chemistry between O'Keefe and Florence Rice. I'd never previously heard of Rice, but thought she really stole the show here.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, let me know if you see the '47 version! I suspect you'd enjoy it. :)

Hi John! I look forward to checking out the earlier version, probably fairly soon. I enjoy the sparkling Florence Rice -- if you put her name in the search box on the upper left of my blog you'll pull up some reviews of her other films if you'd like to look for more. :)

Best wishes,

4:55 PM  
Blogger Mary-Catherine said...

I'm really glad to hear you enjoyed this one, and it's easily three stars from me! Menjou was terrific, as were O'Shea and Donnell, and O'Keefe shows how a good actor can make a sometimes frustrating character still be sympathetic. What more can I say? I enjoyed this one so much.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Maricatrin, glad to hear from someone else who enjoyed this and know that it wasn't "just me" who thought the movie was a lot of fun. :)

Looking forward to catching even more O'Keefe films!

Best wishes,

12:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am discovering Florence Rice. I liked her with Melvyn Douglas in Fast Company , my favourite of the three Joel and Garda Sloane detective stories.

9:05 AM  

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