Don Siegel opens this Noirish thriller with a great point of view break and entry shot leading to the murders of an elderly couple. The second of which is brutally cold blooded considering the era for which this film was produced and released by the the folks at RKO. Siegel would open another film eighteen years later with an equally cold blooded ruthless killing when terrorist Scorpio shoots a woman during the first few minutes of Dirty Harry.
When the police arrive on the scene the next morning their suspicions turn to a young couple staying on the property as migrant workers played by Teresa Wright and John Craven. The pair can sense what the police are thinking and at first hide the fact that they do possess a handgun. When pushed about it, Craven admits their is one in their cabin while at the same time Wright out of fear they may be implicated throws it in the lake adjoining the property.
The problem is she’s seen doing it by an officer looking the property over for clues. She has all but admitted her husband’s guilt in doing so and after they are both grilled hours on end he finally admits to committing a crime he didn’t do.
Macdonald Carey is called in as the public defender who at first assumes he’s going to be doing his best at saving Craven from hanging and hopefully get his sentence reduced to life. This despite Craven’s pleas that he is innocent and that police badgered him and Wright for hours finally coercing him to sign a confession. Carey isn’t so sure until he finds Wright diving in the lake for the proof that the gun they possessed won’t match ballistics. The police never recovered the gun from the murky depths.
With Wright’s home spun honesty, Carey finally believes the pair are innocent bystanders taking the wrap for another man’s crime.
Carey is going to suffer in the public’s eyes as a man defending a killer. His practice will suffer for it and Dolores Moran as his fiance will doubt she has a future with the man who is paying more attention to a murderer and his young attractive wife then he is her. He will indeed lose the case and Craven is sentenced to meet the hangman. Just as an appeal goes nowhere a suspect comes into Carey’s circle played by none other then Jack Elam.
Care to guess who the real guilty party is?
Jack plays it psychotic and gets quite a bit of screen time over the remaining half hour of the film that clocks in at a fast paced 76 minutes. He’s edgy and displays a constant nervousness when cornered. When confronted by Carey he’s slippery as a snake. He’s even got a blonde on his arm, fresh off the farm played by a pouting Adele Mara whom he isn’t above man handling.
To put it plainly, Jack Elam is in fine form and that alone makes this early Siegel effort worth a look. For more on Jack, have a look here.
Plot wise it’s rather easy to poke holes in the whole judicial process and though I never went to law school, I think I could easily have cracked this case long before poor Macdonald Carey finally pieced it all together. But then at this time, Mr. Carey didn’t have the luxury of growing up with parents that watched Columbo, McCloud and McMillan and Wife on revolving weeks.
If you care to get a look at this black and white thriller of the B variety, I came across it on TCM. Where else?
That looks fantastic, I hope I can find it sometime
I picked it up when they had a day devoted to Teresa Wright on TCM. Nice little gem.
I have an old off-air copy of this that I totally forgot about till you wrote about it here – must dig it out.
I am always interested in any work from Don Siegel. One of those directors I first became aware of when I started to look beyond the actors growing up.
I’ve just lately become a big Don Siegel fan, having seen THE LINEUP, RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 and PRIVATE HELL 36 for the first time last year, so I’m very eager to watch this one. It may be awhile, though, since I cut the cord a few years ago…
All 3 solid! I grew up on his seventies flicks on late night TV. Doing a feature on him tomorrow so check back.
Look forward to it!