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|Index||12 reviews in total|
I've seen this film criticized with the statement, "If you can get past the moralizing..." That misses the point. Moralizing is in the conscience of the beholder, as it were. This is a decent film with a standard murder mystery, but with a distinct twist that surfaces midway through. The resolution leaves the viewer wondering, "What would I have done in this position?" And I have to believe that's exactly what the filmmaker intended. To that end, and to the end of entertaining the audience, the film succeeds. I also like the way that the violence is never on stage, but just off camera. We know what has just happened; it's just not served up in front of us, then rubbed in our faces, as it would be today with contemporary blood and gore dressing. Besides, the violence is not the point. The point is the protagonist's moral dilemma, which is cleverly, albeit disturbingly, resolved.
An excellent film on all counts, and especially on the side of the script. The little I have seen of Walter Pidgeon has convinced me that this man must have been in his time a great and imposing actor ! You are kept on tenterhooks throughout the film right up till the end. In addition, Pidgeon's voice was magnificent and deep, you just don't hear voices like that now. Unfortunately not available on video anywhere like so many of the great old films. Let us hope this situation will be remedied in the coming years !
MGM made some excellent film noir. People are surprised but it turned
out some excellent and very dark ones, notably "The People Against
O'Hara." This bears certain plot similarities to that Spencer Tracy
movie. However, it is unfortunately not a very good MGM noir.
Walter Pigeon, not one of my favorite actors, turns in a decent performance. Ann Harding, who could be exasperatingly grand in her 1930s RKO starring vehicles, has a small part as his wife. She's fine, though.
Keefe Brasselle as the young hotshot Pigeon defends is not up to the task. He doesn't ring remotely true as a sleazy kid on the take for whatever he can get and loving what he does get.
Barry Sullivan is one of the staples of the best of noir, however, and he is in his usual fine form as the district attorney who goes up against Pigeon in court. The movie, which seems to have needed it, has a voice-over narration by Sullivan. (I say it may have needed it because he speaks right over characters we see moving their mouths and acting out scenes.) It's rather predictable. Pigeon's Biblical recitation is interesting and casts the movie in a light that suggests it could have been much better than it is.
Walter Pidgeon is Braley Mason, a civil attorney who takes on a
criminal case in "The Unknown Man," a 1951 film also starring Ann
Harding, Barry Sullivan, Keefe Braselle, and Richard Anderson. A great
believer in justice, Pidgeon accepts a pro bono case defending a young
man, Rudi Walchek (Braselle) accused of murder and gets him acquitted.
Shortly afterward, he realizes that the man is guilty and was extorting
protection money from his victim as well as other shopkeepers in the
neighborhood. He is advised by the DA (Sullivan) that Rudi is small
change, that to wipe out the organized crime, one has to find the top
man. Mason finds the top man, and is faced with a dilemma.
"The Unknown Man" is a small, black and white film that manages to hold the viewer's interest with its various plot twists, though the plot is somewhat contrived. It's really the story of a good man seeking his god, justice, and what he is willing to do in order to attain it. And that's the most contrived part of all. I suppose there was a time before O.J., the Menendez Brothers, etc., etc., when people believed in justice and the integrity of attorneys. For this viewer anyway, those days are long over.
Walter Pidgeon does an excellent job -- his handsome, elegant demeanor and declamatory voice show us a successful, confident man but also a deeply caring one. Pidgeon had a magnificent career spanning 60 years but never really rose to superstardom. He was a solid actor who could play just about anything and did. It may be because by the time he was getting leads, he was well into his thirties and missed being a matinée idol; or it could be he lacked that certain something; or that he was typed early on as second lead to a big female star like Greer Garson. Hard to say. He gives an honest and touching performance here.
Very good movie with good performances.
Walter Pidgeon plays an attorney who is persuaded to defend a man
accused of murder. This is odd, as Pidgeon is NOT a defense attorney
but is still a well-respected lawyer. When he is able to obtain a not
guilty verdict, he is horrified to find that the man was guilty after
all--and he'd been suckered into using his good name to get the
Later, when Pidgeon is talking about this case with a friend, he tells the guy that the murderer is part a larger organized crime scheme. And, in a twist, the friend turns out to be the leader of this mob--and rubs it in Pidgeon's face. In a fit of anger, Pidgeon kills the man and frames his client in the process.
So far, this is great. I like the idea of a lawyer acting on what is morally right and committing a murder. However, from this point on, Pidgeon's character just muddles his way through the film--doing a really goofy job in the process. Although he set up the murderer to take the rap for the second killing and he knows that the guy is a hardened killer, he inexplicably agrees to defend him once again! And, instead of doing a sane job, he just kind of muddles about and casts much of the suspicion on himself! What is going on here?! Pidgeon's character changes his motivation so often, you'd swear he had Multiple Personality Disorder! As a result of this very weak character, the film ultimately fails--despite starting off with such a wonderful premise.
Overall, an interesting time passer that really doesn't make a lot of sense. Too bad.
Prominent attorney Walter Pidgeon takes a murder case pro bono, wins an
acquittal and discovers that his client (Keefe Braselle) was not only
guilty but part of an extortion ring reaching to the highest eschelons of
the city. Panged by his own complicity, he undertakes an investigation,
stumbles onto the identity of the "unknown man" who heads the syndicate,
The ironies engage when Braselle is charged with this second murder and Pidgeon must defend him by pointing to the existence of another "unknown man" -- himself. Though somewhat short of urban grit and long on rhetoric, the Unknown Man belongs to the noir cycle less by style or structure than by its acknowledgement of the pervasive corruption of American municipal politics that came to light in the postwar years.
Those early scenes between DA Sullivan and attorney Pidgeon are
beautifully played. Note how subtly a competitive sense is conveyed,
along with professional respect and perhaps mild dislike. So when
Pidgeon decides to take Wallchek's (Braselle) case and challenge the
DA, we understand why. Pidgeon is excellent throughout. His resonant
voice and dignified bearing suggest that Old Testament worship of the
law that drives Brad's character. Ditto Sullivan's first-rate
performance. Nonetheless, his DA takes a more pragmatic view of the
law, one that's importantly tempered by reality.
Too bad the rest of the movie doesn't measure up. Crime dramas whether noir or procedure were simply not MGM's strong suit. LB Mayer's philosophy was escapism and celebrity stars, and not even new production chief Dore Schary's background at gritty RKO could modify the entrenched tradition. Director Thorpe was one of Mayer's favorites because of his ability to complete projects under-budget. Unfortunately, that style-less efficiency is on bland display here as the scenes unfold in strictly mechanical fashion. Crucially, there are no visual (noirish) counterparts to Pidgeon's moral dilemma.
Then too, the screenplay apes fashion of the day by needlessly involving a "Mr. Big" as the invisible mastermind behind crime in the city. Thus, what starts out as a very real legal dilemmaexonerating a guilty man and what to do about itevolves into a contrived storyline, not helped by a highly contrived climax in the prison cell. That compelling premise really does deserve a more thoughtful, less tricky, development than what it gets here. Then too, once you think about it, I'm not sure how well the scales of justice actually balance, contrary to what the final scene appears to imply. Anyway, two fine performances are largely wasted in what another reviewer aptly calls a minor film.
Though there are a few flaws in the creation of this film they are
glossed over by the powerful performances in The Unknown Man,
particularly by it's star Walter Pidgeon.
Pidgeon plays a top attorney, a kind of Louis D. Brandeis who takes great pride in loving the law for its own sake. I've met a couple of attorneys like this in my life and they do exist. Some even wind up on the Supreme Court, like Brandeis.
Pidgeon is like Brandeis, a lawyer who specializes in civil practice. He's both respected and successful. When Philip Ober comes to him and asks Pidgeon to take on a criminal case to save an innocent man's life, Pidgeon agrees.
His client is young Keefe Brasselle arrested in the murder of a young locksmith. Pidgeon gets him off. But later we find out he did the deed and furthermore Brasselle is a young punk who extorts money for organized crime.
That sets in motion a chain of events which Pidgeon pushes that in the end bring about a certain cosmic justice which corrects the mistake that man's justice made. I think if Louis Brandeis had gotten himself involved in a cosmic jackpot the way Pidgeon does it would come out the same.
There are also some nice performances by wife Ann Harding, District Attorney Barry Sullivan who narrates the film in flashback, Eduard Franz the head of the Crime Commission, Lewis Stone as (what else) the Judge, and the original victim's father Konstantin Shayne. There are indeed more than one victim before things are righted.
Walter Pidgeon is the type of man they DON'T make lawyer jokes about, they give them awards. Nicely cast and nicely done film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sometimes the higher expectations you have for something, the more disappointed you are when those expectations are not achieved. I had high expectations for this film simply because Walter Pidgeon was a very fine actor, and a role as a lawyer seemed a natural him, particularly at this point in his career (he also played a lawyer in at least one other film -- "These Wilder Years", with Jimmy Cagney). And, it turns out that Pidgeon's acting here is just fine. That's not the problem.
The problem is a dumb script that couda been a contenda. Now, the script started out fine. Young thug is arrested for murder. A distinguished lawyer -- but not a defense attorney -- reluctantly agrees to take the case. He gets the thug off, but later realizes that the thug was guilty of that murder and probably of at least one other. In trying to figure out a way to get the thug convicted on another murder, he learns who the kingpin of corruption is in his city. And he (Pidgeon) stabs him to death...with the weapon that the young thug used in the first murder! Well, you know something, that's just too sophomoric a script device! It ruined the picture. When the young thug is arrested for the new murder, Pidgeon represents him again since this was a crime for which he was not guilty. But, the young thug is convicted, and Pidgeon decides he (Pidegeon) must pay the price...and still get the young thug to pay a price for the murder he did commit, but was acquitted of. So he goes to the thug's jail cell, gives him the weapon used in both murders, confesses to the thug that he was the murderer in the last crime, then turns his back on the thug and the thug stabs him to death...while Pidegon is reading from the Bible. Thus both murderers pay the price (since the thug will now be convicted of killing Pidgeon). Oh my god.
Would someone really set up a situation that would allow him to be stabbed to death? Anything is possible, but this is pretty far-fetched.
Admittedly, the writers of the screenplay made everything that happens possible, but so unlikely that it ruins the film.
Nevertheless, there is some good acting here. Along with Pidgeon, Ann Harding as his wife puts in a strong performance. Barry Sullivan, not usually a favorite of mine, does very nicely here as the DA. Lewis Stone is just perfect as a judge, though some of the dialog he is given is questionable. Eduard Franz has a small but interesting role as the head of the crime syndicate. The one misfire, at least in my opinion, was Keefe Brasselle as the young thug (although ironically, there were many stories alleging that Brasselle actually had definite connections to the mafia).
I still have a great deal of respect for the long acting career of Walter Pidgeon, but this film proves that not every role he took on was a gem. Maybe worth a watch one single time.
MGM Produced Only a Few Crime or Film Noir Movies that were Above
Average. Their Heart just wasn't in it and didn't Even Try Much Until
the Post War Audiences were Paying More Attention to those Reality
Based Movies and Rewarded the Grit and Edgy Films with Box Office
Success. The Uppity Studio was Now On Board. Sort of.
They Relegated Second Units and Hack Directors, Less than Premium Actors and Writers and Provided Them All with Low Production Values and Reluctantly Joined in on the Opportunity to Make Money. Most of Their Efforts were Unsurprisingly Average or Worse.
In this Crime Procedural Walter Pidgeon and Barry Sullivan do Their Best to Elevate the Thin Storyline with some Gravitas. it does Raise this One Slightly Above Average with some Surprising Twists. But the Production Suffers from a Rushed Schedule.
One Example where the Movie could have An Added Bonus of Realism with a Heart Stopping Scene would be to Film the Death of a Major Character that was Sudden and Powerful Involving a Hit and Run by Truck. These Pedestrian in a Hurry Movie Makers Chose to let that Action and Drama Occur Offscreen.
Overall it is Definitely Worth a Watch for its Story of Corruption and Crime Unfolding in Front of a Good Hearted and Naive Lawyer that Finds His World View Collapsing All Around Him. The Way He Deals with it is Interesting and a Bit Different for this Type of Thing.
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