Saturday, August 29, 2020

Tonight's Movie: This Side of the Law (1950) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THIS SIDE OF THE LAW (1950) is an interesting little Warner Bros. mystery available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

The movie was initially released back in 2010, during the Warner Archive's second year, and the case has since been upgraded, with the plain blue cover art switched out for a movie poster.

THIS SIDE OF THE LAW is one of those creepy thrillers like MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945) or THE SIGN OF THE RAM (1948) which is set in a forbidding mansion conveniently located next to an oceanside cliff. And as the movie begins, David Cummins (Kent Smith) is trapped at the bottom of a well on the estate.

In flashback we learn that Cummins was picked up for vagrancy and Philip Cagle (Robert Douglas), an attorney, paid for his bail. It turns out that Cummins is a dead ringer for Cagle's long-missing client, who is about to be declared legally dead; Cagle wants to prevent that, for complicated reasons, and offers Cummins $500 to impersonate the missing man. After negotiating his price upwards to $5000, Cummins agrees.

Cummins spends a couple days getting up to speed on his new background and then goes to the Taylor family estate, where his first challenge is to get past a suspicious guard dog. In short order we meet his "wife" Evelyn (Viveca Lindfors), who isn't entirely sure what to make of her much nicer husband -- a plot device familiar from films such as SCOTLAND YARD (1942).

There's also a wild-eyed "brother" (John Alvin) to contend with, and adulterous sister-in-law Nadine (Janis Paige), who as it turns out knew her brother-in-law very well and can physically identify whether or not Cummins is really her husband's long-lost brother.

With a running time of only 74 minutes, the plot moves forward quickly. I wouldn't describe it as a great film, but it's of the entertaining two-and-a-half-star variety. The movie's chief attributes are Paige, whose energy makes her scenes the most interesting in the film, and plenty of spooky-looking black and white scenes filmed by Carl Guthrie.

I've seen Smith in a number of films, including NORA PRENTISS (1947), but have never found him a particularly compelling actor. I think I liked him best as the doctor trying to save Dorothy McGuire in THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1946). Here he's all right in the role, especially in the disturbing "trapped" scenes which open and close the film, although I felt like someone with more charisma would have upped the film's interest level. Maybe the Kent I enjoy much more, Kent Taylor, would have been good in the part, or someone like Zachary Scott could have done a good job with the role.

I really liked Douglas as a detective in the following year's HOMICIDE (1949) but again he wasn't quite so interesting here, though suitably ambiguous -- and a bit slimy -- as a lawyer with an agenda.

Lindfors is fairly bland, but Paige bring lots of fire to her role as the two-timing sister-in-law, and I felt she made the movie worth seeing. Alvin is simultaneously over-the-top and forgettable as the disturbed brother, a rather curious combination.

While most of the performances were only mildly on the interesting side, I still enjoyed the film. The setting and plot angles gave it a pleasant familiarity, Paige is a kick, the production values were quite solid for a film of its type, and the quick running time meant it moved along quickly. For those who share my liking for exploring minor films, it is probably worth a watch -- a "nice to have on in the background on a cozy weekend afternoon" type of movie.

The film was directed by Richard L. Bare. The screenplay Russell S. Hughes was from a story by Richard Sale.

The Warner Archive DVD print and sound are of good quality. There are no extras on the disc.

For more on this film, please check out posts by Colin at Riding the High Country and Dan at Mystery File. Like me, they enjoyed checking it out.

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 Margot Shelby said...

I saw it a while ago and thought it was quite good. Agree about Kent Smith, probably one of the most uncharismatic actors ever, though here marginally better than usually.

Janis Paige was great as evil sister-in-law.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Vienna said...

I always remember that dramatic opening to the film. Certainly grabs your attention!

2:42 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Margot, I chuckled at your description of Kent Smith -- I wish I could be more enthused about him but oh well...

Vienna, it really does grab you! And that last sequence in the well is pretty gripping too.

Best wishes,

1:45 PM  

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