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Crusading small town attorney Lionel Barrymore takes on his state's political machine and wins a Senate seat. But once he's escaped local corruption can he survive the even bigger sharks in national politics? In lesser hands, this could have been a turgid morality play, but with Barrymore in the lead it becomes a fascinating and still timely character study. His Jeff Keane, a populist candidate with high ideals, is a predecessor of James Stewart in Frank Capra's classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). But since this is a pre-Code film, the action gets a little steamier, with society hostess Karen Morley laying on the heat to get Barrymore into bed and then to the altar. Before long sex has corrupted this 20th century Lincoln while his wife cavorts with an ex-lover (Nils Asther). Ironically, the film's leads were playing their political opposites. Barrymore was a lifelong Republican opposed to Roosevelt and the New Deal, while Morley's liberal activism cut short her time at MGM and eventually led to her being blacklisted. The film was adapted from a French play (La Griffe) Barrymore had starred in on Broadway to great acclaim. The screen version may not have been as well received, but it still gave the character star, fresh off his scene-stealing turn as Kringelien in Grand Hotel (1932), some powerful scenes. Watch closely for Hattie McDaniel as a maid in only her third film.
By Frank Miller