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Stronger Than Desire

(1939 b 78')

En: 5 Ed: 4

Based on W. E. Woodward's novel and very similar to the 1934 film Evelyn Prentice, the wife of a lawyer shoots a blackmailer and gets her husband to defend the wife.

Skillful defense lawyer Tyler Flagg (Walter Pidgeon) works overtime to find a doubt from doctors who treated the victim and manages to get publicity-seeking Barbara Winter (Rita Johnson) acquitted. Tyler wants to spend time with his wife Elizabeth Flagg (Virginia Bruce) and his daughter Susan (Ann E. Todd) but goes to Boston on an important case. On the train he finds Barbara in his compartment wanting to thank him. He spanks her, but she is still not discouraged. Elizabeth goes to a nightclub with her friend Jo Brennan (Ilka Chase), and assertive Michael McLain (Lee Bowman) dances with her. Feeling neglected by her husband, Jo makes a date for Elizabeth with Michael, and he takes pictures. Elizabeth receives a watch belonging to Barbara the train company sends back to Tyler. Michael has an argument with his poor working wife Eva McLain (Ann Dvorak) over his lying about another woman, but he makes up with her. Tyler tells Elizabeth he is taking her and Susan to Europe.

Elizabeth gets a note that Michael is sailing on the same boat, and she goes to his apartment to discourage him. He shows her four notes she wrote him and demands $4,000 for them so she will not be exposed in the divorce his wife wants. Elizabeth finds a gun and shoots after Michael hits her. She takes the letters and leaves quickly. Jo tells Elizabeth that Michael was killed, and his wife has been accused. Elizabeth admits to Jo that she shot Michael. Elizabeth urges her husband Tyler to defend Eva, because she can't afford a good lawyer. Tyler questions Eva in jail and takes her case. At home he interviews a witness, who says she saw someone like Elizabeth leaving the apartment. Tyler has his assistant Jerry Brody (Richard Lane) check photographs Michael took, and he eventually finds one in the camera which blown up looks like Elizabeth. During the prosecutor's closing remarks, Elizabeth suddenly comes forward and testifies that she shot Michael once when he hit her and then left. However, Tyler cross-examines Eva again, and she admits she fired a second shot that killed Michael. Tyler argues that she acted out of self-defense too, and she is acquitted.

This uneven drama has poetic justice in that the conniving blackmailer is the only one badly hurt. A secondary theme is that this successful lawyer is so fascinated with his work that he has little time left for his family.

Copyright © 2001 by Sanderson Beck

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