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... but the lawyers here apparently didn't study law THAT hard, or maybe the rights of the accused really were ignored this much in 1932.
I'll start at the beginning. James Markey is an attorney that defends bootleggers against gangland murder charges, pays off witnesses, and manages to escape disbarment while raking in the big fees. Out of the blue, James' wife, Iris, develops an attack of conscience and tells James that it's either the straight life or she's leaving. James goes ahead with defending gangster Joe Lou on a murder charge. He wins the case but he loses his wife. After losing his wife he starts drinking heavily, stops practicing law, and hits the skids. When he's thrown out of Joe Lou's bar the last time he doesn't even have the price of a drink on him. This is hard to believe given the shot of the mansion he was shown living in at the beginning of the film. He could have sold that house and lived in a one room dive the rest of his life and had money to eat and drink on for another 50 years. But then we'd have no story. Meanwhile Iris has gone downtown and donated much of her own time and money to a clinic that both feeds and treats the many poor and unemployed.
James hits bottom when he hears food is being handed out at the clinic, goes inside and catches a glimpse of his wife before she can catch a glimpse of him. He ducks back out in the alley, and almost swoons both from hunger and from disgust at what he's become, but is befriended by little Chubby Dennis (Mickey Rooney, .... yes THAT Mickey Rooney), who takes him home with him. Chub's dishwasher dad can see Markey may be on the skids, but that he's educated, and trades some room and board for Markey watching out for Chub when he's out of school so that he doesn't wind up in the gangs.
During this time that Markey's been drowning his sorrows in a bottomless pool of liquor, the gangland wars still rage. Joe Lou, Markey's old client, has three of his close friends and associates killed by a rival gang and decides to personally take care of the rivals himself. In an ironic and tragic twist Joe shoots it out on the street where Markey and Chub are walking, and Chub is shot dead in the crossfire. Markey feels like he is to blame for Chub's death, and goes to the D.A. offering to work as a special prosecutor to go after Joe Lou.
Now in modern days this alone would be taboo, because if you were a lawyer for a client once, you certainly would never be allowed to prosecute that same client as a representative of the state - you'd have too much privileged information in your brain. But Markey takes it one step further. He goes to Joe Lou and offers to be his lawyer again, basically gets him to incriminate himself while police down the street record the conversation, and an arrest is made on that basis. Today Markey, the D.A., and Joe Lou would all be sharing a cell, but this is 1932. I'll let you watch and see how this works out, since there's still Joe Lou's trial to consider, and Joe Lou has a knack for beating every rap.
I did actually see this film. I am not imitating a deceased reviewer that shall not be named who reviewed all kinds of films that had long since turned to dust when he put fingers to keyboard to write about them. In fact, the copy I saw had some skips but was in very good condition. The almost completely anonymous cast does a pretty good job, with Forrest Stanley as the tormented James Markey turning in a particularly fine performance. He reminded me much of Paul Muni both in his appearance and in his acting style. Mickey Rooney steals the little bit of the show he's in as a kid that's seen too much of poverty and the streets to not be somewhat streetwise, but he's basically a good cheerful little kid. Highly recommended for anybody who wants to see a good effort by a poverty row studio at the height of the depression when these small outfits were just struggling to keep the doors open.
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