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On Trial (1939)

Approved | | Drama | 1 April 1939 (USA)
A husband is put on trial for murder and he is ready to take the rap, for he is trying to shield his wife from scandal, along with their six-year-old daughter. But the smart young attorney ... See full summary »


(as Terry Morse)


(screenplay), (from the play by) (as Elmer L. Rice)


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Janet Chapman ...
Larry Williams ...
Mr. Gray (as William Davidson)
Gordon Hart ...
Henry Dean
Mrs. Leeds - Juror #8
Nat Carr ...
Mr. Summers - Juror #6


A husband is put on trial for murder and he is ready to take the rap, for he is trying to shield his wife from scandal, along with their six-year-old daughter. But the smart young attorney appointed by the court to defend him puts the child on the stand and the truth comes out---the mother had been fooling around with another man. Written by Les Adams <longhorn1939@suddenlink.net>

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Release Date:

1 April 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Em Defesa da Honra  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


(Turner library print)

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Elmer Rice's play opened on Broadway in New York City, New York, USA on 19 August 1914 and closed in July 1915 after 365 performances. See more »


Version of On Trial (1928) See more »

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User Reviews

An unassuming but important bit of theatrical and film history
11 August 2014 | by (Bolton, Ct./Jersey City, NJ; United States) – See all my reviews

Yes, as some have said, this barely hour long "B" picture remake (the third filming of one of the 20th Century's more important popular playwrights, Elmer Rice's, first produced play - and a massive hit for the time the original was, at almost a full year on Broadway when the average HIT expected a mere two to three month run!) is probably not on too many people's "must see" list - but it ought to be.

This 1939 streamlining of Rice's original loses a half hour of what was retained for the (hopefully for now only) lost 1928 filming and the 1917 silent version of Rice's 1914 play (written and produced before he changed his name from Reizenstein) but retains all the salient plot points which made the original so historically important. According to theatre historian/chronicler Gerald Bordman, Rice's ON TRIAL was the first courtroom drama to actually follow a trial from start to finish and the first to employ the now seemingly ubiquitous "flashback" on Broadway. The structure still works.

As before, a man is on trial for murdering a colleague who had lent him money and MAY have been involved with the accused man's now missing wife. The accused does not want to defend himself. If there is a real weakness in this abbreviated version it is losing some of the explanation of how the trial can go on when the accused won't stop confessing - but it is fairly clear that his confessions are an attempt to cover for someone else as well as to shield his all too Shirley Temple-like daughter from the revelations of a trial. Yes, the child is, by modern lights, just short of insufferable, but such was the taste of the day and she does what she is called upon to do very well.

The play and film have been copied so often (at a time when happy endings were the order of the day, it is not giving anything away to say that all is revealed before the final curtain) the original has slipped into obscurity and even this second remake is hard to find, but it is easy to sit through for any fan of period mysteries and close to essential viewing for any real student of the evolution of the modern mystery. The cast (even the irritating Shirley Temple wanna-be moppet) is certainly acceptable if not stellar for Warner Brothers - it was, after all tossed off as a "programmer" rather than one of their lead features - with John Litel (in the role of the accused which Burt Lytell played in 1928) continued as a studio staple until switching to TV in the early 1950's and working right up until 1967. As his mysterious wife, top billed Margaret Lindsey has the perfect guilty intensity and worked just as often and long (through 1974), perhaps best remembered as Nikki Porter in the Ellery Queen mystery movies in the 1940's.

If you can find a copy, don't turn your nose up at this quality "B movie"! It's a piece of mystery history you should treat yourself to.

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