Country lawyer Lynn Hollister comes to the city to investigate the murder of a friend found shot after spending the evening in The Inferno, a night club that fronts for an illicit gambling operation. It is covertly run by an affable but corrupt politician, 'Boss' Tom Cameron, who uses voter fraud to maintain influence on city hall and the governor's mansion. Hollister learns that his friend was a winner in a dice game on the night of the murder and threatened exposure of Cameron's vice racket. Complications arise when other underworld forces vie to take over Cameron's operation, and Holister falls in love with Cameron's beautiful daughter. Written by
Neither fish nor flesh nor fowl nor good red herring
Lynn Hollister, a small-town lawyer, travels to the nearby big city on business connected with the death of his friend Johnny. (Yes, Lynn is a man despite the feminine-sounding Christian name. Were the scriptwriters trying to make a snide reference to the fact that John Wayne's birth name was "Marion"?) Hollister at first believes Johnny's death to have been an accident, but soon realises that Johnny was murdered. Further investigations reveal a web of corruption, criminality and election rigging connected to Boss Cameron, the leading light in city 's political machine.
That sounds like the plot of a gritty crime thriller, possibly made in the film noir style which was starting to become popular in 1941. It isn't. "A Man Betrayed", despite its theme, is more like a light romantic comedy than a crime drama. Hollister falls in love with Cameron's attractive daughter Sabra, and the film then concentrates as much on their resulting romance as on the suspense elements.
This film might just have worked if it had been made as a straightforward serious drama. One reviewer states that John Wayne is not at all believable as a lawyer, but he couldn't play a cowboy in every movie, and a tough crusading lawyer taking on the forces of organised crime would probably have been well within his compass. Where I do agree with that reviewer is when he says that Wayne was no Cary Grant impersonator. Romantic comedy just wasn't up his street. One of the weaknesses of the studio system is that actors could be required to play any part their bosses demanded of them, regardless of whether it was up their street or not, and as Wayne was one of the few major stars working for Republic Pictures they doubtless wanted to get as much mileage out of him as they could.
That said, not even Cary Grant himself could have made "A Man Betrayed" work as a comedy. That's not a reflection on his comic talents; it's a reflection on the total lack of amusing material in this film. I doubt if anyone, no matter how well developed their sense of humour might be, could find anything to laugh at in it. The film's light-hearted tone doesn't make it a successful comedy; it just prevents it from being taken seriously as anything else. This is one of those films that are neither fish nor flesh nor fowl nor good red herring. 3/10
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