Crackerjack lawyer George Simon is a workaholic, and a successful one, at that. Having just gotten a woman acquited of a murder charge, he is juggling cases ranging from breaking a will to quashing the disorderly conduct charges against the son of a woman he knew in the old neighborhood, before he became a hot shot counsellor. He adores his wife Cora, who feels she married a bit below her station. His step-children think so, too. His secretary Rexy adores him, although he is oblivious to the fact. Threatened with losing his practice due to a discretion in a case seven years earlier, his wife leaves for Europe until the scandal blows over, and he comes to realize (just in time) who his true friends are. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <email@example.com>
Although this film is frank about some matters, the Production Code of the Hays Office - i.e., censorship - was still in effect. In one 16mm print there is a curious moment of dead air at the end of Lillian Larue's parting speech to George Simon. She says (approximately), "Well, for God's sake, what do they expect for fifteen thousand dollars?" John Barrymore keeps looking at Larue (Thelma Todd as if she is still speaking, and she must be, but there is no sound. Her last words in the text of the play are, "A virgin?" See more »
[answering a call]
I thought you were dead and buried. Well sure I missed you, like Booth missed Lincoln. What do you think I've been doing, sitting around the house embroidering doilies?
See more »
'Counsellor at Law' is guaranteed to take your breath away, even if you're a child of the so-called MTV revolution of ultra-fast editing and relentless energy. It is more than 70 years old now, and it feels so new and invigorating.
John Barrymore, in the role of a lifetime, plays the brisk and matter-of-fact lawyer who came to his prestige, fortune and society-wife the hard way, cutting corners along the way, meddling in gray areas and doing a bit of shady business on the side. "I'm no golf player", he says, and right he is. In the course of a work-day, the same day that his wife and his two overbearing step-children are on their way to Europe, he is accused of corruption and his whole world collapses around him, as he tries to evade his destiny.
No synopsis of 'Counsellor at Law' can do the film justice. It is a manic, mind-blowing depiction of a breakdown, stressful and paranoiac. Barrymore's character is completely alienated from his own family, because he originates from the working-class, the son a Jewish-German baker. During this one morning at work, before things start crashing down, Barrymore has a visit from a woman who wants him to defend her son who was arrested in Union Square in the middle of an inflammatory Communist speech. And it is not even lunch-time yet.
Rent this movie, even better: Buy it. You will want to watch it more than once. It is a bona fide masterpiece, filmed in William Wyler's usual brilliantly organic style.
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