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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.
It's a shame this movie never lives up to the dark promise of its opening images: Night in a run-down quarter of the city; an all-night coffee shop, like Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks"; an old Swedish salt stumbling around. In deep background, a door opens, flooding a stairway with light. Then, shots ring out. What it's all about is a young man framed for a murder, whose impoverished parents coax "retired" defense attorney Spencer Tracy to exonerate him; Tracy plays half Clarence Darrow and half gumshoe. Despite the obligatory falling-off-the-wagon scene (where he succumbs to ethical temptation) it's a solid job. The noir influence goes beyond the camerawork; the ending is darker than you might be led to expect.
The People Against O'Hara is a slightly offbeat film to have come out
in 1951. It's both a crime picture and a fairly realistic study of
alcoholism. The photography is by noir tyro John Alton, and in many of
its night-time and shadowy scenes the movie looks like a thriller,
which it really isn't. Director John Sturges was an up and comer at the
MGM of this time, and the film was one of the earlier shots at A level
film-making. The cast,--Spencer Tracy, Diana Lynn, Pat O'Brien, John
Hodiak--are all fine.
I can't say that the script is any great shakes, but it gets the job done. The story goes off in several directions, as it deals with everything from father-daughter love to gangsters. I like the film more than most people and think that had the script been tidied up it might have been a great movie. There are some splendid moments, and one in the courtroom in particular stands out, when a young thug delivers such a double-talking testimony that lawyer Tracy almost has a nervous breakdown while questioning him. The kid senses that Tracy is vulnerable and keeps on twisting his words deliberately, and Tracy goes for the bait. It's a tough scene to watch, alternately sad, realistic and infuriating.
Tracy plays his role as a recovering alcoholic with sincerity and a conspicuous absence of sentiment. This man is not a saint and never was. Even when clean and sober he's a far cry from perfect, and he always will be.
***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
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.
Spencer Tracy,(James P. Curtayne), plays a lawyer who wants to get away from Criminal Law and go into Civil suits with not very much pressure, because he has a drinking problem. Jim Curtayne's daughter,(Diana Lynn),(Virginia,Ginny,Curtayne) is staying with her father and keeping an eye on him for at least two years, in order to keep him away from the booze. James Curtayne soon gets involved with a family he has known all his life and decides to help them when their son gets involved with a murder. John Hodiak,(Louis Barra) is the Defense Attorney and gives James Curtayne a hard time in the court room. Pat O'Brien,(Detective Vincent Ricks) is an old friend of James Curtayne and tries to help him stay focused on his law case and does give him some important leads. There are many twists and turns in this crime drama and Spencer Tracy gives one of his best performances in this Classic 1951 film.
After a successful career as a D. A, James P. Curtayne (Spencer Tracy) decides to forgo civil law and accept a homicide criminal case involving an old time family friend. Det. Vincent Ricks (Pat O'Brien) a police detective and friend advises him as does his daughter Virginia (Diana Lynn) not to do it as does his heart and former bout with alcoholism. Still Johnny O'Hara (James Arness) needs his established reputation to save him from prison. The story is fraught with dangers which involve the local mob as well as Curtayne's inability to deal with his return to drinking as the case tests his ethics. For Tracy this is a remarkable film as one sees the sober lawyer deal with an inability to deal with his weaknesses. This remarkable B/W film is designed to entertain and highlight Tracy's unique talent. A great movie and one easily recommended to Tracy fans. Although not credited, you can see a very young Charles Bronson making an appearance. ****
Spencer Tracy plays a seasoned attorney with his work cut out for him defending a young man in a murder trial. In some ways a routine courtroom drama, but it goes beyond that. Tracy is terrific, doing his usual crusty cynic bit but that's what we love him for. The role has some depth to it, as the character is a struggling alcoholic who makes a mistake in a moment of weakness. The rest of the cast doesn't match his performance, although John Hodiak is pretty good as the opposing counsel. The plot takes some interesting turns and goes into true noir territory in the third act. And cinematography by John Alton... need I say more? Those brilliant patches of light amidst deep, deep shadows look fantastic as always. I'll be honest, courtroom movies don't generally excite me, but this one is a cut above the usual fare.
This is a tidy crime drama about a "retired" attorney(Spenser Tracy)dealing with his own unethical behavior. Well written and photographed. An apt group of players support the flawless Tracy: Pat O'Brien, John Hodiak, Regis Toomey, Diana Lynn and James Arness. Worth your attention.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When recovering alcoholic attorney Spencer Tracy returns to criminal
practice to defend accused murderer James Arness, he finds himself up
against a ruthless machine of racketeering and crime. Arness claims
innocence even though his alibi doesn't stand up. But Tracy, who has
known him and his family his entire life, delves deep into the bowels
of New York City's crime circuit which is lead by a former defendant of
his named "Knuckes" (Eduard Cianelli). Tracy looses the case and Arness
is sentenced to die, but Tracy is not about to give up, even at the
expense of his sobriety, or his life...
What could be a gripping crime drama or semi-film noir turns out to be a slightly dull, convoluted misfire. Tracy, predictably, is excellent, and it is ironic to see his character battling demons that Tracy fought in real life. Diana Lynn is his "motherly" daughter, fussing over him with worry every chance he gets, afraid he may resume drinking as a result of the stress over the case. This is disconcerting both to him and to her boyfriend, played by "The Six Million Dollar Man's" Richard Anderson.
There's some really gritty shots of downtown Manhattan, under its plethora of bridges and crooked streets. Pat O'Brien, sadly, is totally underused as a police officer involved in the case, even though he has featured billing. The film starts off really promising, sags in the middle with tons of chat, and comes back to life in the last reel. As directed by John Sturges (who also directed Tracy in the brilliant "Bad Day at Black Rock"), this had the potential for uniqueness but ultimately messes up with inadequacies in the screenplay and too much detail mixed in to follow easily.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I should begin by saying that I'm a tremendous fan of Spencer
Tracy...second only to Cary Grant. But even having said that, I think
this is a very fine film noir which interestingly combines courtroom
drama with back alley thugs.
Spencer Tracy plays a criminal defense lawyer who demoted himself to civil law after alcoholism took its toll. But then a family he has long known pleads with him to take their son's (a young James Arness) murder case. Tracy starts out strong in court, but his inner doubts soon begin to take their toll and he begins to romance liquor again...and looses the case. But he won't stop, and ultimately proves his client innocent, but at the cost of his life as he is gunned down on a dark street. You'll almost certainly see that coming, but there is a high degree of suspense here.
The acting in this film is quite good. Tracy is dependable as he almost always was, and this must have been a difficult film for him, considering his own problems with alcoholism. Maybe that's why he plays it so convincingly. Pat O'Brien plays a cop friend just about the way you'd expect him to. John Hodiak is very good as the District Attorney...too bad his life as an actor was cut short. Diana Lynn, who never really made it big, is very convincing here as the daughter concerned with the pressure her father will be under during the trail, as well as the alcoholism problem.
One for the DVD shelf? Yes, if you're a Tracy fan! Maybe, even if you're not.
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