Sunday, August 06, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Judge Steps Out (1949) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Alexander Knox stars in and cowrote THE JUDGE STEPS OUT (1949), a "midlife" romance available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Knox cowrote the film with Boris Ingster, who also wrote the original story and served as the movie's director.

It was Knox's second screenplay; he was also a cowriter on SISTER KENNY (1946), in which he appeared with Rosalind Russell.

In THE JUDGE STEPS OUT Knox plays Judge Tom Bailey, a Boston jurist suffering a bit of a midlife crisis. He's become worn down by his job, his quietly shrewish wife (Frieda Inescort), and his financial obligations, including footing the bill for the wedding of his daughter (Martha Hyer) to a wealthy man's son (James Warren). He's also being pressured by his wife to take a high-paying job for which he feels unsuited.

When a doctor (Whitford Kane) suggests that Tom's stomach trouble is the result of marital stress and prescribes that he get away from it all, Tom does just that -- and without a word to his family, he "steps out" all the way to California, where he ends up as a cook in a roadside diner owned by Peggy (Ann Sothern).

Tom falls in love with Peggy but eventually realizes he's been unfair to her, leading her on while leaving his affairs back home unresolved. Peggy, meanwhile, has run into trouble adopting Nan (Sharyn Moffett), an orphan to whom she's become very attached; Tom living in her home, however innocently, hasn't helped her adoption case.

Tom decides to head back to Boston to put things right, including his last trial, as he now realizes he bungled taking custody from a young widow (Myrna Dell) and giving it to the boy's rich grandfather (Douglas Wood). Tom plans to eventually return to California and Peggy...but there are some gentle surprises in store when he returns home which may not make his plans quite as simple as he thinks.

This was a very good, interesting drama with solid performances by Knox and Sothern as a couple who find in each other the hope of a new beginning, but then must sort out what really matters and makes sense in each of their lives. They each come to realize that personal happiness is important, but their responsibilities to others matter as well.

Although made in the Production Code era when it would generally be frowned on for a man to simply up and leave his family with no repercussions, there's some genuine suspense in how it will all play out, and the story unfolds as a mature and heartfelt drama.

Incidentally, while Knox is convincing when he looks in the mirror near the end and sees himself as an aging older man, he had just turned 40 in 1947, the year this was filmed. Sothern, meanwhile, seems younger, while at 38 she was actually close to Knox's true age.

Particular kudos go to Ian Wolfe, who has a larger role than usual as the judge's devoted clerk; the scene where he gives the judge a good "talking to" is memorable. H.B. Warner, who is never less than magnificent, also has a good scene in which he has a frank talk with Tom about both his career and his own long-ago time "leaving the law" -- for the circus!

Sharyn Moffett (BANJO) was one of the finest child actresses of the '40s. Her role here is relatively small, but she's always appealing. Her brother Gregory has a role in the party scene.

The deep cast also includes Florence Bates (unrecognizable as Peggy's Mexican friend), George Tobias, Mary Gordon, George Chandler, Ellen Corby, Jason Robards Sr., Paul Harvey, and Tom Keene, to name a few.

THE JUDGE STEPS OUT runs 91 minutes. It was filmed in black and white by Robert de Grasse.

THE JUDGE STEPS OUT completed filming in 1947 but was not released by RKO in the United States until 1949. It did have a 1947 release in the UK under the title INDIAN SUMMER.

THE JUDGE STEPS OUT was released on DVD in 2010, about a year and a half after the Warner Archive started business. While the print condition is overall good, there are a couple brief rough spots which are worse than the typical Warner Archive release. I'm speculating, but this may be because success later allowed the Archive to put more effort into cleaning up prints, or perhaps those brief moments were damaged beyond repair. I also found the soundtrack to be a bit more muffled than usual. There are no extras.

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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I appreciated how all of the characters were well-rounded, and how they showed that the judge's wife and family moved on and grew without him. Another film may have focused solely on the judge and I think that is something that pleased me the most about this movie.

The DVD quality sounds no better than what TCM has shown in the past, nonetheless it is a worthwhile movie for those who appreciate gentle, honest storytelling.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Caftan Woman,

Yes, I agree, it was very interesting seeing how the other characters had reacted and changed, and the ripple effects one person's actions have on another.

Thanks for the feedback on how the DVD description compares to the TCM print! I hope more viewers will check out this interesting film.

Best wishes,

12:14 AM  

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