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James Curtayne has retired from law but he returns to defend John O'Hara on a murder charge. Curtayne's drinking and rustiness result in O'Hara's being found guilty, but Curtayne makes further efforts to prove him innocent. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
His Final Service To His Profession And His Client
Spencer Tracy's only venture into the noir genre finds him playing James P. Curtayne, an alcoholic criminal lawyer who is living with daughter Diana Lynn. She's essentially put her life on hold to take care of her father.
Friends from his old neighborhood ask him to defend their son, James Arness, who is being charged with a homicide during the course of a what we would now call a home invasion.
Tracy's not up to it, he's past his prime and unable to break down the perjured testimony of William Campbell who says Arness was the trigger man in the crime. He's got a sharp District Attorney in John Hodiak going against him. And he's got a client who's lying about his real whereabouts to shield someone else.
When the verdict of guilty is read against Arness in The People Against O'Hara it should be over. But not quite.
I liked John Hodiak as the District Attorney. He's good in anything he does and his role here is as an honest lawyer who's more interested in finding out the truth than scoring another prosecutorial notch on his belt. That in itself is very refreshing.
Given Spencer Tracy's own alcholism this must have been a part way too close to home for him. But he also is determined to serve his client to the best of his abilities which are sharply impaired when he makes a bad error in judgment in bribing witness Jay C. Flippen. Usually Flippen plays upright characters so this portrayal of a witness willing to sell his testimony to the highest bidder is against type and good.
Other good performances of note are Eduardo Ciannelli as the mob boss of the Fulton Fish Market, Pat O'Brien as Tracy's long time friend and homicide cop, and in a bit role in the end Ann Doran as a policewoman who puts herself on the line in the final confrontation scene.
Both Tracy and Hodiak in this film are two of the best portrayals of the legal profession on the screen. Even Tracy's ethical lapses are done with the best of intentions.
The People Against O'Hara is a great example of film noir at it's best and one of the screen's finest players in his only venture in noir.
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