Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The People Against O'Hara (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

A stellar cast distinguishes the MGM film THE PEOPLE AGAINST O'HARA (1951), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Spencer Tracy plays Jim Curtayne, a lawyer who is attempting to kick his habit with the bottle under the watchful eye of his daughter Ginny (Diana Lynn).

Ginny has put off marrying her boyfriend Jeff (Richard Anderson) in order to try to keep her father on the straight and narrow. Curtayne has attempted to lessen the temptation to drink by giving up his stressful criminal law practice for civil work.

However, when financially strapped friends (Arthur Shields and Louise Lorimer) from the "old neighborhood" need help when their son Johnny O'Hara (James Arness) is arrested for murder, Curtayne takes the case.

The stress of the murder trial is too much for Curtayne, as he struggles to stay sharp and not use alcohol as a crutch. Johnny is convicted, but Curtayne has a chance at redemption when he cracks the mystery behind Johnny's silence about his whereabouts on the night of the murder; Curtayne works with the police and the D.A. to nab the real killer (Eduardo Ciannelli).

While I wasn't taken with Tracy's storyline, I liked the overall noir feel to this combination crime and legal drama, which was filmed in black and white by the great John Alton. Alton shot RAW DEAL (1948), THE BIG COMBO (1955), and other great noir titles. It's also of note that the same year THE PEOPLE AGAINST O'HARA was released, Alton shot the Technicolor ballet for AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951), for which he would win an Oscar.

Pat O'Brien plays the homicide detective on the case, and his initial scene in the police station, with Emile Meyer hovering at his side, is a thing of noir beauty as filmed by Alton. It's a perfect look in every way, and there were many similarly great-looking scenes, particularly near the end of the movie.

The cast is simply phenomenal, reason enough for a classic film fan to watch it. John Hodiak is likeable as the ethical D.A., and the same can be said for O'Brien as the police detective. There are countless other great faces scattered throughout, like Ann Doran and Regis Toomey as cops, Frank Ferguson as a reporter, Henry O'Neill and Ned Glass as judges, and even a young Charles Bronson as one of a family of insolent brothers visited by Curtayne.

William Schallert, playing an ambulance doctor, has just one line at the end, but it's a doozy. Jack Kruschen, Mae Clarke, and even John Ford's favorite accordionist Danny Borzage are also on hand. Yvette Duguay plays Johnny's girlfriend, who can't reveal that she's Johnny's alibi, because her much older mobster husband (Ciannelli) will kill them both.

THE PEOPLE AGAINST O'HARA was directed by John Sturges. It runs 102 minutes.

All in all, this isn't a great film, but it's solid, with the strong cast and stylish looks overcoming the drearier aspects of the "Will he or won't he pick up the bottle?" storyline.

The DVD is a nice-looking print, and the disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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