The Trial of Mary Dugan is a 1941 American drama,thriller film directed by Norman Z. McLeod and written by Bayard Veiller. The film stars Laraine Day, Robert Young, Tom Conway, Frieda ...
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The Trial of Mary Dugan is a 1941 American drama,thriller film directed by Norman Z. McLeod and written by Bayard Veiller. The film stars Laraine Day, Robert Young, Tom Conway, Frieda Inescort, John Litel, Marsha Hunt, Marjorie Main and Henry O'Neill. The film was released on February 14, 1941, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
If you like courtroom dramas this one is better than most. If you don't go for courtroom dramas, well ...
The first noun in the title, namely "Trial," makes it clear. The film will focus on a legal confrontation. I, personally, am a sucker for a good courtroom story. I can't say why. I am not a lawyer. My daughter is a lawyer but she never sets foot in a courtroom. I have no expertise in the law. Yet I consider myself something of a connoisseur of courtroom drama. This one is much better than most. It's not at the exalted level of "Anatomy of a Murder" or "Witness for the Prosecution." But it is far, far above such abominable stuff as the courtroom scene in "Leave Her to Heaven." The duel between D.A. and defense attorney is quite sharp. No one breaks down on the stand Perry-Mason-style. It's not clear until the end how the defense, which we know will prevail (Mary Dugan is presented entirely as a virtuous person), will prevail.
The movie has a sharp divide. The trial itself occupies the second half. The first half develops the characters, establishes the circumstances and motivations that will lead to crime and judgment. One peculiarity - and I think a quite effective one - is that the camera does not witness the actual crime, even in a vague way (the figures being in shadow or otherwise obscured). We learn the details as the defense attorney does, from information gathered after the fact. I find that approach surprisingly effective. It allow us, the viewers, who have not viewed the crime, to imagine it, as the lawyers and jurors will have had to do. A nice touch
The acting is very good. Robert Young is his usual disarming self. Henry O'Neill is top-notch as the district attorney. One gets the feeling that he truly enjoyed his role. Laraine Day brings dignity to a title role that could have been just sappy. Two actors, and one particular touch, stand out. Frieda Inescourt - no one could do haughtiness better - is a joy to watch. She gets to give the unique touch - something I have seen in no other movie. Recalled to the stand, she repeats her testimony. The camera acts as the eyes of the defense attorney reading the previous transcript. We, the viewers, read the script of the play while we listen to an actress recite the lines of the play, perform her performance. It's quite remarkable.
The other stellar performance is that of Marsha Hunt, who steals the movie. I can only say that she was the essence of a character actress, possibly the finest that Hollywood produced, a character actress in the true sense of the term. That is, she could play any character, never the same, always with subtlety and finesse. To appreciate it you have to watch the series of her work, beginning as a frivolous ingenue at Paramount in the 1930s. MGM discovered her talent in the '40s. They gave her every sort of role, from light comedy ("Pride and Prejudice") to dramatic heroine ("None Shall Escape," Raw Deal") to conniving villain ("Smash-Up"), clever, ironic girlfriend ("Kid Glove Killer"). No one except Ida Lupino could do a desperate suicidal woman better ("These Glamour Girls." Blossoms in the Dust"). In "Mary Dugan" she plays a Joan Blondell-type loose woman. It's easy to overact in that part, to make it a caricature rather than a character. She does it lightly. She injects a note of sympathy into a standard semi-comic figure. Her witness-stand scene, her breezy repartee, winks at the judge and jurors, is the highlight of the film.
If you enjoy tales of the courtroom, check out this movie. It's worth it. It even works as a detective story. When the true culprit is revealed, one is inclined to groan: "Oh, rats! They pulled that one out of thin air." Then, thinking for a minute, one realizes that there was a clue provided, an obvious clue yet one that we of course, as intended, overlook, which rescues the integrity and the intelligence of the film.
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