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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>
According to John Sturges's inputs for the book of Emmanuel Laborie "Sturges: a filmmaker's story", John Sturges said he was frightened directing Spencer Tracy who was a living legend. At the beginning, he was just stuck on the story-board and choosing good camera angles and did not dare to interfere in Tracy's way of acting. Until the day, Tracy rehearsed a scene, while Sturges was looking at it through the eye-piece of the camera, suddenly took off his jacket and hung it on the camera lens blocking up the director's view. Then Tracy took Sturges aside and told "John, can you stop only worrying about your camera and take care about the actors because the camera is only a hungry machine and it will not be satisfied if you feed it with junk food". See more »
***SPOILERS*** Courtroom drama in and out of the halls of justice with former high profile defense attorney James Curtayne, Spencer Tracy,handling a murder case for the first time in years. As Curtayne finds out that he just doesn't have it anymore in defending the accused. With his boss Bill Sheffield shot down in front of his building young Johnny O'Hara, James Arness,is picked up going to his parents apartment the next morning and arraigned for Sheffield's murder.
With his car identified at the murder scene and Johnny having no alibi to were he was at the time things don't look too good for the ex-con and WWII vet. Fingered by one of the notorious Korvac brothers Frankie (William Campball), who's fingerprints were found in the car, as the hit-man made Johnny's conviction for the murder of Sheiffeld a lead pipe cinch. Defense attorney Curtayne nonetheless took up the case for Johnny, pro Bono, because he knew him all his life and felt that he was innocent.
Having been away from dealing with criminal cases for years put a tremendous strain on the once brilliant defense attorney. Curtayne once successfully defended 18 murder cases in a row getting his clients off. Turning to the bottle and being drunk while handling Johnny's defense Curtayne lost his grip on the case and had assistant D.A Louis Barra ,John Hodiak, run circles around him in the courtroom and easily had Johnny convicted of murder.
Johnny himself didn't help his case at all by not revealing that he was with his girlfriend Catrina, Vetta Duguay, at the time of the Sheffield killing since she's married to big time mobster Sol "Knockles" Lanzetta,Eduardo Ciannelli. That revelation would mean curtains for both Johnn & Catrina of them if "Knockles" ever found out.
Curtayne desperately trying to get his client off the hook even went so far as to pay off a witness local stevedore Sven Norson, J.C Flippen, to change his testimony with a $500.00 personal check no less! This not only would get him disbarred but thrown behind bars. Convicted and waiting for a sentence that may well strap him into the electric chair Johnny still didn't want to bring out the fact that he was with Catrina when Sheffield was shot and killed; even when she came forward herself willing to be a witness for his defense.
It was later in the movie that Catrina unknowingly brought out the real reason for the Seffield murder and it was something that was right in front of both D.A Barra, in fact he was photographed with it. Curtayne all during the trial would not only identify the killer, or killers since by revealing it would bring them out in the open and put her life in danger.
A bit confusing at times "The People Against O'Hara" does hold together pretty well with James Curtayne risking his life in the end to save Johnny O'Hara from being executed by the state for a murder that he didn't commit. Attorney Curtayne having himself "wired" to get the goods on the real murderers had him make up for all the mistakes he made in the movie by putting his life on the line to do it.
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