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A disillusioned Assistant DA becomes THE MOUTHPIECE for
scurvy assortment of crooks & criminals. His new public
persona is mirrored by his shady, lustful private life. Can
influence of two very different women save him before it's
Warren William drives this very entertaining, albeit forgotten courtroom melodrama. With its rapid-fire plot & smart aleck dialogue, the film is a perfect representation of its era.
William was ideal at this kind of role; indeed, he played several others in the early 1930's which were almost mirror images of Vincent Day, the shyster lawyer he gives life to here. With his patrician bearing & interesting bass voice, William's characters were always worth watching. In this film, his courtroom scenes are especially engrossing as he engages in histrionics & sly subterfuge to sway the juries. It is to Hollywood's discredit that this very fine actor is virtually unknown today.
Aline MacMahon gives another of her splendid performances, here as William's world-weary, tough-as-nails secretary who secretly loves him. Sidney Fox is very good as the innocent Southern girl who's smart enough to recognize William's wicked ways.
Guy Kibbee has the small role of a sympathetic bartender. Movie mavens will spot an uncredited Charles Lane as a hotel clerk.
The Mouthpiece (1932)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Highly entertaining moral tale from Warner about D.A. Vincent Day (Warren William) who has a change in heart after sending an innocent man to the electric chair. He decides to switch sides and take the money in return for getting criminals off of crimes they've committed but he starts to have second thoughts after falling for a woman (Sidney Fox) who works for him. THE MOUTHPIECE is such a good film that after viewing it I was rather shocked to realize that not too many people know of it. Warner was the king at delivering these moral tales during this period so it's kind of shocking that this here has been swept under the rug and forgotten. It's certainly a prime candidate for being rediscovered because there's just so many great things going on here. We can start with the terrific cast being led by William in one of the greatest performances I've seen from him. Yes, he can play that ruthless character better than anyone else but this here shows the actor at his very best. The supporting cast is equally great with Fox really coming across good as the woman the lawyer falls for. Aline MacMahon is also very memorable as the secretary and we also get great work from John Wray, Ralph Ince, Morgan Wallace, J. Carrol Naish and J. Carrol Naish who plays one of the thugs. The film has several sequences taking place inside the courtroom and these are some of the most imaginative court scenes you're going to witness. It was wickedly fun watching William work his magic and especially during one scene involving some poison. If I had a problem with the film it was the love story aspect. I just never fully bought why this lawyer would fall so hard for this girl but this really doesn't take away much. THE MOUTHPIECE is a terrific little drama that has the studio and cast doing their best and it needs to be viewed by more people.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the best 1930's pre-code films.
The innuendo and risqué situations add realism that later old movies lack (and that any movie about unscrupulous lawyers should have). "The Mouthpiece" also has gangland involvement without gratuitous violence. These are two big reasons why the movie works.
Warren William is the prototype film cad and has yet to be outdone in the callous cad role. Sidney Fox looks vulnerable and fragile (as apparently she was in real life) but is OK as the girl employee. Aline MacMahon is simply outstanding as secretary/girl Friday.
Fast-paced, good plot, clever legal shenanigans. Works as a Courtroom Drama but on a personality level its really hard to believe that such a hardened cad as Vincent could change his ways.
There may not be a lot of depth in this movie, but it's completely
enjoyable, for all the reasons other commentators here have listed -
the dialogue and several of the main actors. To that list I'd add the
pleasure of seeing life in the 1930s, the cars, the clothing, the
buildings, the room decor, all stylish and of the period. I especially
got a kick out of the scene near the end where a car revs its engines
to make it backfire, the driver moving a tiny lever in the centre of
the steering wheel. The elevator, the marble staircase - lots to keep
you interested apart from the plot.
Warren William is centre stage throughout and is excellent, tough, smart, sophisticated and slimy. In the scenes in which he crowds the innocent young thing, stooping over her like a vulture, his evil intentions are brilliantly clear in his body language; he looks like a vulture, like Count Dracula.
"...why she wants to marry her simpering boyfriend rather than enjoy a life of luxury with Williams is a mystery." Well, maybe a mystery to some people, but most of us realize that women are not generally tramps willing to trade their affections for luxuries.
As a retired lawyer i would have loved to have the great art deco office in which Williams luxuriates.Also if only i could have had a secretary like Aline MacMahon!Obviously Williams doesn't realise what a gem he has in MacMahon and decides he would try the lounge lizard approach with innocent Fox.Now why she wants to marry her simpering boyfriend rather than enjoy a life of luxury with Williams is a mystery.After all going up to his flat to work in the middle of the evening seems a bit strange,and to find your boss in a smoking jacket even stranger.In my view this is a hugely entertaining film,which i had seen only once before at the NFT.I cannot understand why BBC and Channel 4 in particular are quite happy to show Randolph Scott and Audie Murphy westerns for the umpteenth time but cannot give air time to this film and other classic films of the era.
An ambitious Ass't DA switches his talents to defending the mob. But is
Watching the imperious Warren William (Day) as a legal shark is really impressive. He's got all the tricks of a Houdini, along with the ethics of a cobra. Drinking the poison in court is a real grabber. This part of the movie is riveting and dynamic playing to William's commanding strength. And that's so, even if the diminutive ingenue Fox (Cecilia) is a foot shorter and a lot younger, so there seems something illegal going on when they passion kiss. I can understand the peculiar casting here since Fox projects just the kind of sweet innocence that might turn the head of even the most jaded scalawag. Still, the big turnaround doesn't really jibe with Day's power-grabbing character, and in my book, undercuts the initial setup of its powerful promise.
Speaking of characters, Aline MacMahon (Hickey) darn near steals the film as Day's wisecracking secretary. What a shrewd piece of casting since few actresses can actively compete with the forceful William. Yet, she does, and makes you believe it. Good to see her cast as someone besides a maiden aunt or the family wallflower. Despite the story's central difficulty, this is a smooth production, fluidly paced, that demonstrates the expert professionalism of the old studios, in this case Warner Bros. Anyway, here's to Warren William, a great screen personality deserving of rediscovery.
THE MOUTHPIECE (Warner Brothers, 1932), directed by James Flood and
Elliott Nugent, does not pertain to anything regarding to the
inventions of a smoking pipe, a telephone handset nor a component of a
brass instrument. In fact, the term "mouthpiece" is a slang term for
lawyer, a highly regarded role enacted by Warren William. Taken from
the play by Frank J. Collins, the story scripted by Joe Jackson, is
reportedly based on the life of William J. Fallon, a New York City
attorney, but fiction or not, THE MOUTHPIECE is a perfect example of
what extremes that any attorney would do to win both case and fame.
The plot opens in a New York City courtroom where Vincent Day (Warren William), an assistant district attorney, through his testimony, convinces the jury to convict Robert Wilson (Emerson Treacy) for "taking the life of an innocent girl." On the very night of Wilson's execution in the electric chair, Day is notified by District Attorney Forbes (Walter Walker) that Wilson innocent with the real culprit caught and arrested. Because he sent an innocent man to his death, Day drowns his sorrows drinking heavily in a bar where he's served by Paddy, an Irish bartender (Guy Kibbee) who convinces him to put his legalistic knowledge to work, and making more money in the process, by becoming a defense lawyer. Day soon accepts his new challenge working as a "mouthpiece" for mobsters. His first case finds him proving Pondapolis (Stanley Fields), a boxer, guilty by catching him off guard with one punch. He later rises to fame after getting Tony Rollo (J. Carroll Naish), an Italian mobster, off for poisoning an administrator. Having opened his own law office, Day acquires a personal secretary in Miss Hickey (Aline MacMahon), and Celia Farraday (Sidney Fox), recently from Riverport, Kentucky, as his stenographer. While Hickey is secretly in love with Day, his sole interest is on Celia. Unlike the other women from his illicit past, Day comes to realize Celia's loyalty to Johnny Morris (William Janney), the boy she intends to marry. Learning how her salary has come from Day's "blood money," Celia quits her job, agreeing to resume her position (at no salary) until Day is able to obtain another secretary to replace her. Some time later, Johnny, working as a bank messenger, is arrested on the charge of a $2,000 bond theft. Believing him innocent, Celia comes to Day for help, even at the possible risk of he endangering himself for going against his gangster friends.
THE MOUTHPIECE is Warren William's showcase from start to finish. A dress rehearsal for his latter attorney role in the short-lived "Perry Mason" film series (1934-36), many rightfully label his role of Vincent Day to be one of William's top screen performances, and naturally so. Aside from his astounding courtroom cases, it's hard to forget his underhanded method by getting Barton (John Wray), a bank cashier, off for embezzling $90,00 from his employer, Mr. Smith (Morgan Wallace) of E.A. Smith & Associates, then "earning" the remaining $10,000 of the bank's own money for himself; and swallowing an entire bottle of poison to prove his case in the courtroom to give the jury a reasonable doubt his client is innocent.
Supported by a capable cast of Warners stock players, including Berton Churchill (The Judge); Murray Kinnel (Thompson, Day's Butler); Mae Madison (Elaine); Ralph Ince (J.B); the mean-looking Jack LaRue (Joe Garland) and Charles Lane (Hotel Desk Clerk), only the pert and dark-haired Sidney Fox makes her loan-out assignment to Warners from her home-base studio of Universal. Fox, an interesting screen personality with a brief movie career (1931-34), is quite believable as the honest but naive Celia Farraday, down to her Southern accent. Also giving a commendable performance is Aline MacMahon playing another loyal secretary no different from her debut screen performance in FIVE STAR FINAL (1931) opposite Edward G. Robinson. Her sincere performance is the sort of role that remains in memory long after the film is over.
Remade twice by Warners, first as THE MAN WHO TALKED TOO MUCH (1940) with George Brent and Virginia Bruce; and as ILLEGAL (1955) with Edward G. Robinson and Nina Foch, the 1932 original, though virtually forgotten until resurrected during the early years of Turner Network Television (1988) followed by occasional broadcasts on Turner Classic Movie, has never been surpassed. In the Hollywood sense, pace is fast, story contrived but interesting, and conclusion quite suspenseful.(***)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
William J. Fallon, Arnold Rothstein's personal attorney and popularly
known in the tabloids as "Attorney to the Damned", was portrayed in a
thinly disguised way, twice within months in 1932. Warren William in
"The Mouthpiece" and John Barrymore in "State's Attorney" - in both
films the law was viewed as a profession with flexible rules rather
than having a rigid moral code. In both Fallon was depicted (rather
like Perry Mason) as someone who could bend the law to the limit with
his brilliant oration and shock tactics. No one was worried - except
Fallon's son who bought a suit against Warners, charging that "The
Mouthpiece" libeled his late father. Warners settled out of court and
actually remade "The Mouthpiece" twice - "The Man Who Talked Too Much"
(1940) and "Illegal" (1955) by which time Fallon was just a curious
footnote in history.
When Vince Day (Warren William, in a perfect piece of casting), flamboyant attorney, realises his grand standing speech has sent an innocent man to his death, quits his job as a lowly paid Assistant District Attorney. His philosophizing bar tender (Guy Kibbee) thinks he's a mug - instead of always trying to defend innocent people, the ones who really pay are the guilty!!! After trying a case where an unexpected blow to the jaw gives him front page headlines, he realises that what the public really wants is sensationalism, Barnum and Bailey and a three ring circus. Now 2 years later he is a criminal lawyer deluxe - beautiful Noel Francis makes an appearance as his after hours "consulting work".
Along the way he gets involved with 2 women, efficient Miss Hickey, his on the ball secretary and with Aline MacMahon in the part, almost a carbon copy of her "Five Star Final" part, you just know she would be perfect for him, hey she would be perfect for any bloke!! The other woman is his new typist, Celia Faraday (delectable Sidney Fox) who is described by Hickey as "jail bait - young and dumb". She is from Kentucky and as Southern as they come but she is not interested in Vince's shenanigans - even when, to prove a point to a jury, he drinks a bottle of supposedly poison to prove it isn't, hangs around the court, then races to his office where a doctor is at the ready to pump his stomach!!!
She is in love with bank messenger, Johnny (insipid William Janney) but before they can be married Johnny is charged with stealing some cash he was delivering and they now find they need a lawyer more urgently than a parson!!! Vince does everything he can to get the youngster off, even incuring the wrath of the mob!!
Sidney Fox showed, in this movie, that while adorable, she just didn't have what it took to be a star. Here her acting was pretty wishy washy. By 1932 her once bright star had almost set. She had been bought to Universal as a protégé of Junior Laemmle's and big things were expected of her but her messy love life got in the way (apparently she romanced both father and son) and she ended her career in ingenue parts, like this one. Believe it or not, that is Paulette Goddard (as a bottled blonde) drapped all over Warren William at a celebratory party.
I love old movies. And, of these, perhaps the ones I like best are the
so- called 'Pre-Code' pictures. This refers to a time period in the
early 30s when there was a set of rules and standards for films but
Hollywood routinely ignored them. While you might think these older
films were sanitized and highly moral back in the day, the Pre-Code
period was filled with films that had a lot of very adult content--
even by today's standards. Eventually, the public began avoiding
theaters and groups like the Catholic Legion of Decency began demanding
changes. Faced with lower revenues and too much bad publicity, the
studios finally caved in to demands and created a tougher new code in
mid-1934--one which practically banned everything! It's a shame in some
ways, because the old Pre-Code films are pretty exciting--and sometimes
better than the Post-Code pictures.
A great example of the differences between the styles in these films can be seen in the old Pre-Code movie, "The Mouthpiece". Like many movies of the time, it was remade several times--and these Post-Code versions were rather weak in comparison. All three versions are shown regularly here in the States on Turner Classic Movies and I'm compulsive enough to have seen them all so you don't have to!
"The Mouthpiece" stars Warren William--an actor who was very popular back in the day but who is sadly forgotten today. Some of this is because he died rather young but most is that after the Code was finally enforced, the rakish jerk he played so convincingly in so many films was now forbidden--and the characters he played in the Post-Code films were awfully bland by comparison.
When the film begins, Vince Day(William) is a prosecuting attorney-- and a very successful one. However, his confidence and swagger are knocked out from under him when a man he convicted and got sentenced to death is executed...and it's now known that the man was innocent. Not surprisingly, he quits this job and becomes a defense attorney instead. What is surprising, though, is that he quickly begins to feel right at home with the other side of the law and soon begins defending the scum of the earth. He is no champion of justice or the oppressed! To make it worse, he uses a variety of tricks and theatrics to gain acquittals--even though some of these tricks are clearly the sort of things that could get him disbarred. But, the tricks do work--and jury after jury is swayed by his courtroom antics. And, the gangsters in town love him.
When not working, Vince spends most of his time chasing women. Married or single...it makes no difference to Vince and the film strongly implies that he sleeps around...a lot. Additionally, he frequents speakeasies (this IS during Prohibition) and hangs out with underworld types. All this comes to a head when one of his secretaries, Celia (Sidney Fox) confronts him for his antics when he makes the moves on her. For some odd reason, he actually respects her and cares what she thinks of him. Could he have a conscience after all?! Where all this goes next, you'll just have to see it for yourself but it certainly won't disappoint.
So how does "The Mouthpiece" differ from the remakes? Well, most of the difference is due to the actor playing Vince. You could believe that Warren William is a dirty old lecher and crooked lawyer in "The Mouthpiece". However, in the later remakes, George Brent and Edward G. Robinson play the same guy. Brent is smooth but safe in his characterization and Robinson is much older and seems to have even less libido than Brent! They're tricky but not much more. And, as a result, these excellent actors come off as dull--whereas William NEVER is ever dull! In fact, during much of the film William's character chases after Celia even when she is described as 'jailbait'--a woman who is underage! Additionally, there is a hard cynical edge and originality that make it hard not to be captivated by "The Mouthpiece" and it's simply a much better film. Sure, it's sleazy...but you can't stop watching!
There is a sad epilogue to this film. The diminutive Sidney Fox is terrific in this film, particularly when she confronts Vince for being the blackguard that he really is. However, only a decade later, at age 34, she died--and her death appears to have been a suicide. As for William, his career clearly took a turn for the worse after 1934 and he began appearing more and more in B-movies as opposed to the prestige pictures from earlier in his career. He died from cancer at age 53. Reportedly, however, in real life he had been nothing like the rogue he played so well in the 1930s.
One of the better movies of 1932, "The Mouthpiece" features a tour de force performance by Warren William as a brilliant but corrupt prosecutor with a weakness for dames, drink and dollars but who is redeemed by a stubborn moral sense that sometimes overcomes his vices. The screenplay, by the prolific but tragically short-lived Joseph Jackson (whose other work includes such gems as "Safe in Hell" and "One Way Passage"), is both hard-edged and witty, with many of the funniest wisecracks delivered memorably by the incomparable Aline MacMahon as William's loyal secretary, the type of role that might have been played by Joan Blondell or Glenda Farrell had the studio casting dice landed another way. The familiar Warners-First National stock company appears in full force including Guy Kibbee as a speakeasy bartender; Noel Francis as a golddigger; J Carrol Naish as a gangster; Walter Walker as a district attorney. The diminutive Sidney Fox persuasively plays a secretary in William's firm who helps to set him on the right path.
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