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Attorney for the Defense

(1932 b 72')

En: 5 Ed: 5

After a skilful district attorney learns an innocent man was executed, he helps his family and becomes a defense attorney. A shady woman he knows has an affair with the son of the man executed, and they become involved in a murder. The lawyer goes there and is prosecuted for the murder. His secretary suggests he defend himself, and the trial is broadcast on radio.

         At a criminal court James Wallace is sentenced to be put to death by electrocution. Mrs. Wallace (Dorothy Peterson) screams, and her son Paul (Douglas Haig) comforts her. James Wallace (Dwight Frye) accuses the district attorney, William J. Burton (Edmund Lowe) of railroading him and seventeen others. He says he did not kill anyone, and he is dragged out of court. Burton asks the judge to include the defendant’s remarks in the record, and he does. Court is dismissed, and reporters question Burton, who has his photo taken with his pretty secretary, Ruth Barry (Constance Cummings).

         Burton and Ruth return to his office and discuss the case. She says he was convicted on circumstantial evidence. She says people should have a defense attorney as well as a prosecutor. He suggests she write to the Times about it and leaves.

         Burton goes to an apartment building, and his friend Tommy warns him that Nick Quinn is on the march. Burton visits Val Lorraine (Evelyn Brent), who greets him with a hug. She says the mug Nick just woke her up. She calls room service for coffee. Nick thanks Burton and says he won money betting on his Wallace case. Burton suggests she eat cheese like a rat. He implies she is a double-crosser. Burton tells Nick that he is not taking up his option on her, and he is welcome there. He says she is a two-time gal for a small-time crook. She tries to get Nick to react; but Burton advises Nick to stick with petty larceny or he may run into him in court. Burton leaves.

         A newspaper reports that a confession proves that the executed Wallace was innocent. The editor criticizes Burton for being an executioner and a persecutor. The editor introduces a man to James A. Crowell (Wallis Clark), the next district attorney.

         Burton reads the newspaper article and calls in Ruth. He reflects on how many people he has sent to the big house. He dictates a letter to her, saying that he no longer can be district attorney. He will devote himself to the defense of the accused, instead of to their prosecution. She is surprised. He says he is guilty of murder, and she defends him. He goes out to pay a bill.

         Burton calls on Mrs. Wallace. He hears the boy Paul crying with his mother. Burton says he has accused himself. He says he cannot give back her husband’s life, but he changed his will to make her and her son his only heirs. He asks if she will let him help them, and he offers some cash. Paul says not to take it, and Burton leaves it on the table and goes out.

         A magazine reports how Burton atoned for his legal murder. He is educating Paul Wallace. Paul graduates from Black Rock Academy, and Burton wants him to go to Jefferson Law College. He is captain of the football team.

         In his office Burton calls in Ruth and says he liked the football game. She asks what they do with football players after they graduate. He wants to take him into his office and help him become a lawyer. Burton asks Ruth how old she is, and she says she is in her twenties. He suggests she get married. She says she does not believe in marriage, and she says he does not either. Ruth says that Val is there to see him. He signals to Ruth by pointing to his ear. Ruth calls her in and leaves them. Val sits down and asks for a smoke. He asks what she wants. She asks him if there is a statute of limitations on grudges. She says she was one of his greatest boosters. She says he has become successful as a defense attorney. He asks why Nick sent her to him. She says she is not seeing Nick anymore. She is planning to marry someone else. She says she wants a home and kids. He laughs. She says he is the attorney for the reformers called the Citizens Committee. He says he organized the committee, and they are closing up the gambling houses. She accuses him of breaking into Nick’s safe and stealing his records. She says if he returns the records, she will pay him ten times as much as the committee. He says he is working without a fee. He wants Nick to do his bit in the big house. Val says Nick will do the right thing. She tries to show Burton affection, but he puts her off. He insults her, and she gets up. She warns him that Nick will see that he is dead. Burton talks on his intercom to Ruth and asks if she recorded all that. She says she got it all. He thanks Val for dropping in, and she walks out.

         Val goes home and tells Nick to get off her bed. She says Burton will not give them his records. Nick says he sent her to the wrong man. He says she could write a book about her men, and the last one will be about a football hero. He shows her pictures of Paul Wallace. She says she always wanted to tackle a football star. Nick will use money, and she says she will use her own judgment.

         From a car Nick watches Burton go into a building. He calls on Mrs. Wallace and asks what is for dinner. Outside Nick talks with chauffeur Mugg Malone (Nat Pendleton), who shows him a card trick. Nick wins but does not collect. He wants to talk, and Mugg invites him into the car.

         Burtons asks Mrs. Wallace why Paul is not there.

Nick offers Mugg $5,000 to crack Burton’s safe for him. He only wants some papers that belong to him. Mugg says he stole them in the first place and will not do the same job again.

         Mrs. Wallace tells Burton that Paul has been seeing a lot of a woman named Val. Burton gets up and calls Val on the phone and asks for Paul Wallace. He advises her to lay off him. She tries to make a deal; but he says he is telling and hangs up.

Paul Wallace (Don Dillaway) asks Val what is the matter, and she tells him to go home. She says she must not see him anymore because of Burton’s orders. She says he must have found out they care for each other. Paul asks her to tell him what it is. She says Burton murdered his father. They embrace, and she tries to stop him from leaving. She says Burton has threatened to hurt her, and Paul says he will not let her be hurt.

         In Burton’s office Paul is pacing, and he asks Ruth if Burton is interested in Val Lorraine. She says that is not office business. Burton comes in and sits at his desk. He says Paul was with Val. Paul asks if that is a felony, and Burton says it is only a mistake. He suggests he find someone else. Paul asks why. Burton says he knows her well. Paul asks if Burton is interested in her himself. Burton says Val takes from men. Paul objects, and Burton pushes him into a chair. Paul stands up and says he is going to marry Val. Then he warns him not to say anything like that again and walks out.

         A man breaks into Burton’s office and safe and takes an envelope with Nick Quinn’s name on it.

         Val answers the door, and Paul comes in. He holds the envelope in the fireplace, but Val stops it from burning. She says he has made her happy and kisses him. Later Val calls Burton and says Paul is there with her. She suggests he bring his checkbook alone because she got Nick’s records from Paul. She says if he is not interested, she will sell them to Nick, to the highest bidder. Paul heard her and is angry. He walks toward her menacingly.

         Burton knocks on the door and walks in. He sees a man’s hat. He knocks on the bedroom door and opens it. He finds Val on the floor and Paul on the bed. He wakes up Paul, who is drunk. Paul asks if she passed out too, and Burton says she is dead. Paul asks if he did it. Burton tells him to remember. Paul says she made a fool of him. She would not give him the envelope, and he went crazy. Burton tells Paul he has to get out of there. He gives him his hat and coat and tells him to go straight home and not talk to anyone. He gives him gloves and has him go out the window. Burton turns on a light, and Jefferson Q. Leffingwell, wearing a servant’s uniform, comes in. He sees Burton going through papers at a desk. Burton tells him to call the police and lights a cigar. Jefferson makes the call.

         Burton is in jail, and others mock him.

         In the office Ruth asks attorney Abe Steiner to defend Burton, who says the D. A. Crowell sees an election coming. Steiner says his fee is $50,000 with $25,000 in advance. She agrees to pay him. He leaves, and she calls men for money; but they all says they do not have the money.

         In his office Crowell questions Mugg, who wants to do card tricks. Mugg refuses to give answers.

         Ruth visits Burton in jail. She says Steiner wants to handle the case, but she turned him down. She says he will have the best lawyer, himself. She says she would stop speaking to him. She says she did not get married because he did not ask her. He says she would probably be a widow soon. She gives him a gardenia for his lapel, and they clasp hands.

         Court is being prepared for a radio broadcast, and it is Crowell’s idea. People fill up the courtroom. Mugg offers 3-1 odds for Burton. A policeman puts the handcuffs on Burton, who gives him a cigar. Burton enters the courtroom, and reporters notice the gardenia. Ruth sits next to him.

         The judge comes in and starts the trial. Burton says he will conduct his own defense. The judge says the trial is being broadcast on the radio, and he warns people if there is a disturbance, he will clear the court.

         Crowell speaks to the jury about the case. Burton did not have a casual relationship with Val, and they were separated. He says she was forced to seek the protection of another man. Burton came to her apartment and murdered her in cold blood. Burton speaks to the jury about the radio show. He says he has no evidence, witnesses, or defense; but he has an able lawyer.

         Crowell questions the doctor, who says the cause of death was strangulation. Paul Wallace in a robe at home is listening to the case on the radio. The doctor says the bruise on her face was caused by a metal object. The judge objects, but Burton does not. Crowell asks the doctor if she could have been struck by Burton’s cane, and he says yes. Mugg changes his odds to 2-1.

         Crowell asks Nick Quinn if Burton was a regular visitor at Val’s, and he says he was a boarder. Ruth objects, but Burton does not. He asks about Burton’s relations with Val as her paramour, and he says she was so even while he was doing reform work. Burton goes up to Quinn but does not asks any questions. Ruth asks why he did not question him.

         Jefferson testifies he is the elevator operator. He says Val was his best customer for gin. Crowell asks him to tell what he saw in Val’s apartment. He says Val was on the floor, and Burton was searching in the desk. Burton told him to call the police. Court recesses, and Mugg says he wants 100-1 odds.

         The judge returns. Burton calls Paul Wallace as his only witness. He asks Paul if he opened his safe and stole records. Paul admits he did and says he took them to Val’s apartment. Burton asks him what happened there. Paul says he was engaged to marry her. She pleaded with him, and he says he grabbed her by the throat; but he does not remember what happened after that.

         Crowell asks Paul if his father was executed for a crime he did not commit, and Paul says yes. Crowell suggests that Burton may have betrayed him. Crowell says Burton allowed Paul to leave in order to shield him from the crime; but he knew what would come up in the trial. Crowell suggests Burton is sacrificing Paul to save himself. The witness is dismissed. Burton says why he put Paul on the stand, and he says the papers are vital to his case. Burton recalls Jefferson. He asks where he got his new suit of clothes and his stick pin worth $300. Burton asks him if he took Paul up there that night. He asks if he took anyone else up there that night. Jefferson says no. Paul asks him about perjury and explains what it is. Burton asks Quinn to stand up, and Burton asks Jefferson if he took him to that apartment that night. Jefferson says he did. He says Quinn often went up there after Paul left.

         Burton has Quinn take the stand. He asks if he paid Jefferson money, and he says no. He asks him about the papers he wanted that could send him to prison. Quinn pleads ignorance. Burton asks him to be sworn again, and the Judge consents. Burton asks to see Nick’s ring. He calls up Mugg, puts on the ring, and slugs Mugg. Burton asks the doctor to look at the bruise on Mugg, and they notice how it is similar to the bruise on Val’s face. Burton says Quinn killed Val Lorraine.

         In his office Burton calls in Ruth and dictates a letter. She says his complicated legal letter does not make sense. He says he is going to propose marriage to her. He asks if she will take dictation forever. She puts a gardenia in his lapel, and she completes the letter.

         This drama portrays a skillful lawyer, who decides it is better to use his ability defending people rather than prosecuting them. He helps the family of his legal victim in reparation for the wrong he did. He leaves a scheming woman and tries to free his young protégé. By acting to help others and protect them from the dishonest he finds his greatest success.

Copyright © 2010 by Sanderson Beck

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