After an overly aggressive district attorney unknowingly sends an innocent man to the chair, he resigns, turns to drinking, and acquires a criminal clientèle.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Ellen Miles
Ray Borden
Frank Garland
Howard St. John ...
Miss Hinkel
Ralph Ford
Jan Merlin ...
Andy Garth
Joe Knight
Jay Adler ...
Joseph Carter
Henry Kulky ...
James McCallion ...
Allen Parker
Steve Harper
Lawrence Dobkin ...
Al Carol


Ambitious D.A. Victor Scott zealously prosecutes Ed Clary for a woman's murder. But as Clary walks "the last mile" to the electric chair, Scott receives evidence that exonerates the condemned man. Realizing that he's made a terrible mistake he tries to stop the execution but is too late. Humbled by his grievous misjudgement, Scott resigns as a prosecutor. Entering private practice, he employs the same cunning that made his reputation and draws the attention of mob kingpin, Frank Garland. The mobster succeeds in bribing Scott into representing one of his stooges on a murder rap and Scott, in a grand display of courtroom theatrics, wins the case. But soon Scott finds himself embroiled in dirty mob politics. The situation becomes intolerable when his former protege in the D.A.'s office is charged with a murder that seems to implicate her as an informant to the Garland mob. Can Victor defend the woman he secretly loves and also keep his life? Written by Chris Stone <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The 'fixer' took care of everything! See more »


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Release Date:

16 March 1956 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Schakale der Unterwelt  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


In the scene where 'Edward G. Robinson''s character enters the office of DA Ralph Ford (Edward Platt) you can see the Maltese Falcon from John Houston's 1941 film on the barristers bookcase near the entrance door. See more »


(at around 1h 23 mins) During the chase scene, the film is flipped for all three cars as they make a left turn; the steering wheels are on the right side, the license plates are backwards and all the building sign-age is reversed. See more »


Miss Hinkel: [answering the phone] Mr. Scott's office.
Miss Hinkel: No, this is not the Safeway Cleaners and Dryers!
[hanging up]
Miss Hinkel: Some idiot wants his pants pressed. Maybe we oughta get a new number.
Victor Scott: Not so fast. We may be pressing pants again.
See more »


Version of The Mouthpiece (1932) See more »


Too Marvelous for Words
Music by Richard A. Whiting
Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
Performed by Jayne Mansfield (dubbed by Bonnie Lou Williams)
See more »

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User Reviews

ILLEGAL (Lewis Allen, 1955) ***
4 July 2008 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

Due to his brush with HUAC, Edward G. Robinson's career suffered throughout the 1950s; I hadn't watched that much of his work from this period myself – but have now managed to catch two (coincidentally, both semi-noirs made for the same director) in one day.

Though actually the second one, this was the superior effort: in fact, I found it to be quite an underrated genre outing – whose courtroom milieu supplies an added treat; for the record, it was the third screen version of a popular play of the 1920s (the others were THE MOUTHPIECE [1932], the best-regarded one, and THE MAN WHO TALKED TOO MUCH [1940]). Robinson is perfectly in his element here as a crusading D.A. who hits the skids after he sends an innocent man (STAR TREK's DeForrest Kelley!) to the electric chair – trying to pick up the pieces as a common civil lawyer, he falls in with a powerful gangster but is ultimately redeemed (in both senses of the word). At this point, the actor must have relished such a meaty part – particularly one that so vividly recalled some of his earlier vintage work (but most of all BULLETS OR BALLOTS [1936], a Robinson vehicle I watched for the first time only recently and greatly enjoyed, and which also sees him playing on either side of the law).

The play was here adapted for the screen by two notable scriptwriters, W.R. Burnett (author of LITTLE CAESAR [1930], which had made the star's name in the first place) and James R. Webb. The supporting cast is also well chosen: Nina Foch as Robinson's diligent assistant and surrogate daughter, who stays on with the D.A.'s office once the hero is disgraced; Hugh Marlowe as another Robinson aide who loves and subsequently marries Foch; Ellen Corby, one more member of Robinson's staff but who devotedly sticks with her boss; Albert Dekker as the gangster figure; and a debuting Jayne Mansfield as Dekker's 'talented' moll (her role reminded me of Marilyn Monroe's celebrated bit in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE [1950], coincidentally drawn from another popular W.R. Burnett novel).

Eventually, the mole in the D.A.'s office – suspected to be Foch due to her ties with Robinson – is discovered to be Marlowe who, when confronted by Foch, she ends up killing him in self-defense; Robinson defies his boss by taking up her case (protecting himself by secreting evidence that would point the finger at Dekker in the event that something happens to him). Though the film is an atypical noir and contains just one action sequence, Robinson's unconventional courtroom tactics are at least as entertaining and arresting: knocking out a burly witness to a brawl so as to prove his unreliability; drinking a dose of slow-acting poison himself in order to smash the new D.A.'s case against his client (an associate of Dekker's); at the end turning up in court mortally wounded to acquit Foch. By the way, a handful of paintings from Robinson's personal renowned art collection are passed off as Dekker's in the film!

Warners' exemplary DVD – issued as a double-feature, as part of their "Film Noir Collection Vol. 4", with Don Siegel's even better THE BIG STEAL (1949) featuring the great team of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer – contains the trailer, an Audio Commentary (an extra I used to lap up in the past but haven't listened to one in a long time – chiefly due to time constraints and a huge backlog of films!) as well as two featurettes. One discusses the film proper (all-too briefly) and the other a vintage TV piece in black-and-white, hosted by the ubiquitous Gig Young, about courtroomers produced by Warners (with clips from the Oscar-winning THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA [1937] and two 'brand-new' efforts – Otto Preminger's THE COURT-MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL [1955], which I haven't watched, and, of course, ILLEGAL itself with even a brief contribution from Edward G. Robinson).

4 of 6 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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