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The Unknown Man (1951)

Approved | | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir | 16 November 1951 (USA)
An attorney successfully defends a young hoodlum charged with murder but later has doubts about his client's innocence and starts investigating his background and associations.


Richard Thorpe


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Complete credited cast:
Walter Pidgeon ... Dwight Bradley Masen
Ann Harding ... Stella Masen
Barry Sullivan ... Joe Bucknor
Keefe Brasselle ... Rudi Wallchek
Lewis Stone ... Judge James V. Hulbrook
Eduard Franz ... Andrew Jason Layford
Richard Anderson ... Bob Masen
Dawn Addams ... Ellie Fansworth
Philip Ober ... Wayne Kellwin
Konstantin Shayne ... Peter Hulderman
Mari Blanchard ... Sally Tever
Don Beddoe ... Ed
John Maxwell ... Dr. Palmer
Robert B. Williams ... Sam (as Robert Williams)


Prominent attorney Brad Mason takes on the defense of Rudi Walchek, a young hit-man hoodlum accused of murder. Convinced of the youthful thug's innocence, Mason get him acquitted. Later, he learns from the murder-victim's father that Walchek is a low-level member of a protection-racket gang and was undoubtedly guilty. Mason is anxious to get the gang-leader, but when he discovers it is the eminently respected head of the city's Crime Commission, he feels that a conviction in a court-of-law would be impossible. In a rage, he kills the man, but all evidence, including the murder weapon points to Walchek. When the latter is again brought to trial, Mason, although he senses a higher justice is at work, feels he must defend him with the best of his ability. Written by Les Adams <longhorn1939@suddenlink.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Shocking! Revealing! Timely! (US poster) See more »


Approved | See all certifications »






Release Date:

16 November 1951 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Behind the Law See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA See more »


Box Office


$618,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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User Reviews

Too Tricky for Its Own Good
6 June 2010 | by dougdoepkeSee all my reviews

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 dilemma—exonerating a guilty man and what to do about it—evolves 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.

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