Blowhard, Esq. writes:
I enjoyed this Pre-Code film directed by William Dieterle starring William Powell as Anton Adam, a lawyer who is “just a small time mouse trying to be a big time rat.” Tired of defending nobodies on the Lower East Side (the opening shots, though brief, look like reference material for THE GODFATHER II), Powell trades in his straw boater for a fedora when he partners with a fancy uptown corporate lawyer. But Adam’s libido, which the film euphemistically indicates at times by the angle of his cigar, soon lands him in trouble with the city’s political machine. Sunk by dames, wiretapping, and a frame-up, Adam employs some dirty tricks against the New York elite in an attempt to claw his way back to the bottom.
Although a film about a lawyer, Dieterle and the script (written by Rian James and James Seymour, based on a book by Max Trell) keep us out of the courtroom for most of the film, a strategy employed by Tony Gilroy in the recent MICHAEL CLAYTON. We’re told Adam is the best in the city in front of a jury and Powell has four speeches in the 68-minute film, each about how the powerful have it in for the little guy, but we as viewers are the intended audience his diatribes, which surely resonated with Depression-era moviegoers. But don’t let me give you the wrong idea that the film is a slog. Far from it. Given that it was made well before the Civil Rights Era it’s not infected with any (OK, much) of the stuffy self-importance that frequently taints so many post-Brown v. Board of Education movies about attorneys. Besides, one of the joys of 30s films, especially Pre-Code ones, are the femmes in their form-fitting silks, satins, and furs. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Joan Blondell as Powell’s lovelorn cutiepie secretary who spends the movie trading quips and flashing her anime eyes at him.
LAWYER MAN is available on TCM’s Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 4 along with Dieterle’s JEWEL ROBBERY and MAN WANTED. It’s also available for rental on Amazon. As much as I enjoyed LAWYER MAN, JEWEL ROBBERY is even better because Kay Francis. (Thanks to Sax for tipping me off about JEWEL ROBBERY.)
- The trailer for LAWYER MAN, which includes one of Powell’s speeches that the film slyly winks at. The New York Times’ original review of the film.
- Fabrizio on MAN WANTED.
- I wrote about another Pre-Code film here starring Barbara Stanwyck. And back here I looked at Ridley Scott’s and Cormac McCarthy’s THE COUNSELOR.
- The American Bar Association picks the 25 best legal movies.