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William 'Stage' Boyd
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>
It's criminal that this superb melodrama, from a well-made play of the day, isn't better known. Barrymore, all cylinders firing yet giving a perfectly natural, restrained performance, is a hotshot New York lawyer facing personal and professional ruin; he may never have been better in the movies, and some of the magnetism that made him a stage legend shines through. Wyler makes no attempt to "open up" the stage material; he basically confines it to one (very beautiful) set, and his camera unobtrusively follows the legal-office denizens around, seemingly overhearing conversations, Altman-style. There's a lot of social history tucked away -- with commentary about Jews and gentiles, rich and poor, capitalist and communist -- and a whole stageful of compelling characters, who often define themselves in a walk, a smirk, a laugh. And yes, there are contrivances and coincidences, but that's the stuff the well-made melodramas of the time were made of, and they were seldom constructed as neatly as this. I saw it at a revival house, with a smart New York audience, and nobody laughed in the wrong place or grew cynical about the old social conventions that no longer apply. In fact, at the end they applauded good and hard -- after 70 years, this one's still a corker.
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