Saturday, April 11, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Mr. District Attorney (1941)

Crime meets comedy in MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY (1941), a lighthearted mystery starring Dennis O'Keefe and Florence Rice.

This was one of two films by this title loosely based on a radio program created by Phillips Lord. The second MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY (1947) film was released half a dozen years later and also starred O'Keefe -- playing a completely different character! The later film, a much more serious, noirish crime drama for Columbia Pictures, was reviewed here in 2015.

When they made the 1941 film, O'Keefe and Rice had both recently been under contract at the much more prestigious MGM, where they costarred in VACATION FROM LOVE (1938) and THE KID FROM TEXAS (1939). MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY, a 69-minute "B" film for Republic Pictures, was made for a more economical studio yet feels much the same as MGM's "B" product, with a good cast and a significant number of sets.

O'Keefe plays P. Cadwallader Jones, a newly minted attorney who gets a job working as a deputy for District Attorney Tom F. Winton (Stanley Ridges).

Jones is a bit of a haphazard goofball who inadvertently secures the release of the defendant (Ben Welden) on his first day in court. On the up side, Jones has the good fortune to repeatedly "meet cute" with pretty reporter Terry Parker (Rice).

Jones's exasperated boss assigns him to work on an old case regarding a missing embezzler named Hyde (Peter Lorre), but to everyone's surprise the case heats up when the man reappears -- and also proves to be a stone-cold killer.

The mystery, written by Karl Brown and Malcolm Stuart Boylan, is reasonably simple to follow compared to some other films of its type, but the real fun of the film is the O'Keefe-Rice relationship, and they're onscreen together for a majority of the movie, from the first moments when they meet outside a hat shop. They're waited on in the shopping sequence by Grady Sutton and Norma Varden, so you know you're in for a fun film.

MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY isn't the stuff of great cinematic drama, but it definitely worked for me as a cute little crime drama with charming leads. It also gave me one more reason to love VCI's Forgotten Noir Vol. 3 DVD collection. To date I've seen seven of the set's nine films -- review links are at the conclusion of this post -- and the collection is a total winner for fans of enjoyable "B" and even "C" fare.

The cast also includes Minor Watson, Charles Arnt, Joan Blair, Sarah Edwards, and Helen Brown.

The movie was directed by William Morgan and filmed by Reggie Lanning.

As a side note, Republic Pictures released two more films with different actors starring as the same lead characters. In MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY IN THE CARTER CASE (1941), James Ellison and Virginia Gilmore play P. Cadwallader Jones and Terry Parker. SECRETS OF THE UNDERGROUND (1942) stars John Hubbard and Virginia Grey (another former MGM contract player) as Jones and Parker. I hope to track those films down.

Other films reviewed in this Forgotten Noir collection: HIGHWAY 13 (1948), SKY LINER (1949), WESTERN PACIFIC AGENT (1950), RADAR SECRET SERVICE (1950), MOTOR PATROL (1950), and COUNTERSPY MEETS SCOTLAND YARD (1950).


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

O'Keefe and Ridges? I think you have given me a very nice Easter gift.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you can check it out, I think you'll enjoy it. Gave me more entertainment value than some recently seen films with bigger budgets!

Best wishes,

11:17 AM  

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