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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I usually seek out detective movies from the early 30s because this is
before the film narrative found short cuts and experimentation was the
norm. After "Kane," the narrative stance changed, and while novel forms
got more radical, they are harder to find.
This is a gem of that kind, nominally a detective movie of the earlier kind. It is set in the early 30s. Superficially, it is a simple story of how a smart man frames his wife's lover for his own murder, but the form is quite complex.
There is an outer wrapper: the narrator is a judge, and the focus a lawyer who appears before him, successfully defending guilty murderers. Before the core story happens, we are also put into the role of a judge as we witness an introductory story that establishes not only the characters and their situations, but where we fit is as well.
The judge respects the lawyer but is repelled by his success at using "tricks." Involved in the pre-story is an "alienist" who judges the sanity of defendants. Using our anachronistic perspective, we watch as we learn that the lawyer's wife judges her husband as inadequate, and this is why he has sold his brilliance to the guilty.
Everybody in this story is a judge, and there is a deliberate merging of passive watching with actively manipulating the story, noir-wise.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
One of the last films directed by the great Elmer Clifton,
career dates back to the mid-teens and D.W.Griffith, The Judge
also the first production of Ida Lupino's production company,
called Emerald Productions, later called The Filmmakers.
This is a quirky film which is both hard-boiled and pretentious, raw and artsy. It is also a film that raises as many questions as it answers. Elements are introduced into the story, covered in detail, and then not developed. Dream sequences are introduced, but are unclear. The main character--who is a sleazy defense attorney, NOT a judge--is well-played by Milburn Stone, but his story is not really typical of anyone other than this one oddball character. Why the film is called THE JUDGE, I don't know. The show begins and ends with a judge pulling out a file from his file cabinet, and talking about what a unique and disturbing case this was. The same judge does rule on an important case in the film, but he is not central--one wonders why the film is not called THE DEFENSE ATTORNEY? While star Milburn Stone and some of the supporting actors give good performances, the doctor and Stone's wife are both amateurishly played. Also, no scored instrumental music is feature in the film: only avant-garde acapella choral music, and the wire recording of the violin practicing that is used to get the psycho killer to grab a gun, which is used later as supporting music. This gives the film an art-film feel. A few scenes were unclear and required me to rewind the tape and watch them two or three times. The scene where the guy selling the dolls picks someone's pocket--the guy who later kills a policeman and is blackmailed by Stone--was unclear. Where was that gun coming from? Is this sloppy continuity, or an attempt at being ambiguous? Who knows... When the film ends, somewhat abruptly I might add, the viewer will probably have a number of questions as we did. However, whatever minor flaws I may complain about, The Judge is a unique film experience. Not entirely successful, but unique nonetheless.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**SPOILERS** Very penetrating study of an amoral and sleazy defense
lawyer who suddenly got religious when he found out that his equally
sleazy wife was cheating on him as well as the similarities he had in
life with one of his clients.
From the files of the honorable Judge Allan J. Brooks, Jonathan Hale, we get to see the story of Attorney Martin Strang, Milburn Stone, and the life he lead that in the end made him realize what a low down rotten swine he really was. Strang had gotten off accused murderer James Tilton, Norman Budd, on a technically the year before only to have him murder a young violinist Tony, Al Rosman, and his pet dog. Tilton murdered Tony, a crippled 11 year old boy, because was was driving him, his next door neighbor, crazy with his violin playing.
Called by Tilton to be his defense attorney Strang who tried to get Tilton off on an insanity defense was stymied when the court psychiatrist Dr. James Anderson, Stanley Waxman, determined that Tilton was perfectly sane when he murdered Tony. What really struck Strang was the fact that Tilton had a brother whom he greatly disliked like he himself did. This was the same situation a young Attorney Strang found himself in with his younger brother whom he, after having him disbarred from practicing law, drove to commit suicide!
It was later when Strang secretly caught his wife Lucille, Katherine DeMill, having an affair with the court psychiatrist Dr. Anderson that he got the idea to reform himself from his life of legalized crime and repent to all those, the victims of the people he got off in court, he hurt over the years! Planning to both cut his wife completely out of his will and set up her lover Dr. Anderson in a future murder that he so meticulously orchestrated Strang was going to right all the wrongs he committed, in getting murderers off, over the years.
***SPOILER ALERT*** The plan that Strang put into motion ended up working to perfection with the biggest surprise, to everyone involved including the movie audience, being in him, attorney Strang, ending up as the murder victim!
Very complicated story about one's redemption at the price of his own life. Strange's shoddy past had finally caught up with him in both the murder of Tony by a client of his, James Tilton, whom he got off on a previous murder charge and his sanctimonious wife cheating on him. But what I feel was the real tipping point in Strang's sudden conversion was his kid brother that he drove to kill himself years before. It was Strang's brothers tragic death coupled with the fact of him realizing how many lives he destroyed in his sleazy tactics in court that finally made him see the light!
P.S In a last act of contrition Strang left his entire estate, valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, to the families of the victims of the defendants he so skillfully and dishonestly got off.
Yikes! As is typical with Alpha Video releases, the DVD copy for this
one is pretty awful. It's very fuzzy and the sound very poor due to a
loud hiss. While I am thrilled that Alpha brings out many B-movies
which would otherwise never come out on DVD, the discs have never been
restored in any way and it looks and sounds that way.
Milburn Stone plays Martin Strang--a lawyer famous for defending some high-profile murderers. One day he realizes that his wife is cheating on him and concocts a complicated plan. However, Strang is clever and is willing to take his time with this one.
One day, William Jackson (Paul Guilfoyle) kills a cop and is up on murder charges. Surprisingly, Strang volunteers to take the case free of charge even though it seems like a sure loser. However, there is a catch--the obviously guilty man will pay for the service by doing Strang a favor. After getting an acquittal on a technicality, Strang announces the favor. What that favor is and how it relates to the wife is something you'll need to say for yourself.
Now all this probably sounds great, right? Well that's the problem. While the set up was good, the payoff was not. Even worse, much of the ending needed to be explained by the narrator!! Instead of a dandy ending came talking, talking and more talking both before and after this exposition. In addition, during much of this you hear one of the most annoying soundtracks in history--with a chorus blaring out 'oooooooooooooo' for what seems like an eternity! Overall, the longer I watched, the less I enjoyed the film. A film that had SOME good ideas but which was horribly written and cheap. Very disappointing.
...or: Well, that explains that.
In the exhibitor's press book issued with this film, there is a half-page, two-column story under this headline: Balance of Symbolism and Reality Is Important Facet of "The Judge" There we learn..."the delicate balance between symbolism and reality is one of the most interesting features of 'The Judge." While symbolism is used freely throughout, it infiltrates, rather than intrudes itself upon the consciousness of the audience. Instead of becoming an object in itself, a showcase for trick camera angles and self-conscious dramatic shots, the symbolism in 'The Judge' is worked in gently, a subtle shading to intensify the characters and action it supports. While the effectiveness of symbolism is exploited, it is made to keep its place in the anatomy of the picture."
(Thank goodness for small favors.)
"...Wiliam Jackson (Paul Guilfoyle), a little guy who is pushed around, is first seen in the uncompromising sunlight of a middle-class park, against the sculptured background of struggling figures at the base of a statue. He is trapped in the wire cage of a tennis court, and tried against the bleak bareness of a courtroom. All these backgrounds build unobtrusively toward making his actions in the contrasting Apartment 29 natural and even inevitable. They are an unspoken comment on, and explanation of, his character."
(A nerd is a nerd is a nerd)
"PROPS REVEAL CHARACTER: The office of Dr. James Anderson (Stanley Waxman), with its neat files and carefully cataloged data on human emotions, its stern furniture and well-ordered arrangement, portray the cold mind of the psychiatrist. Lucille Strang (Katherine deMille) is seen against a haughty background that shows the deft, impersonal hand of a professional interior decorator, artistically lovely but without warmth, showing she has spent money but no love upon it---pointing up her brittle and unsentimental character."
(Some of us clods just thought the dame had swell taste.)
"The props, too, speak their piece. Inanimate objects become characters in the story---Jackson's tinkle-toy that is crushed by the foot of an unheeding ruffian---the wire-recorder in Anderson's office that taunts Tilton (Norman Budd)---the gun that Strang steals from Anderson."
This course in fundamental symbolism ends rather abruptly right there, as if the printer had had all he could take, and just inserted a still of the scowling, bow tie-wearing Paul Guilfoyle in place of setting the type for a third column. Too bad. Perhaps the third column explained just exactly what a tinkle-toy was. Maybe it was a bedpan constructed out of tinker-toys from an Erector Set.
Did the writers explain all this to director Elmer Clifton?
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