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Richard Dix, one of a handful of male stars from silent films whose stardom continued into the sound era, had a masculine charm that made him a box-office attraction in Cimarron (1931) and other films. In Day of Reckoning (1933), a domestic drama about a husband who is sent to prison for embezzlement and finds that his domineering wife has taken a lover, Dix was allowed to show a gentler, more vulnerable side of his personality. Although under contract at the time to RKO, Dix moved to MGM for this one.
Based on a novel by Morris Lavine, this Depression-era drama was built around the hardships faced by families who were forced to survive on lower incomes -- a common problem of the day. Dix plays John Day, who is accused of using company money to pay bills run up by his spendthrift wife, Dorothy (Madge Evans). After he is imprisoned, George Hollins (Conway Tearle), a conniving businessman, moves in on Dorothy. This leads the businessman's jilted girlfriend (Isabel Jewell, later to play Emmy Slattery in Gone with the Wind, 1939) to shoot Dorothy. When Hollins takes the rap and is sent to the same prison as Day, the two men face a day of reckoning that only one will survive.
Prominent in supporting roles are Una Merkel as the Days' helpful Southern maid and Stuart Erwin as the milkman who seeks her hand. Charming little scene-stealer Spanky McFarland of Our Gang fame appears as one of the Days' two children.
Coming so early in the history of sound movies, Day of Reckoning has unusually fluid direction by Charles Brabin, who shot many scenes on location around Los Angeles, including the climactic fight high above the city's streets.
In the 1940s, after a declining career that included many "B" features, Dix again abandoned his stalwart image to take on neurotic and even psychopathic roles -- most memorably that of the obsessive-compulsive captain in The Ghost Ship (1943). The actor, who died in 1949, also faced acting challenges by playing both heroes and villains in Columbia's low-budget The Whistler mystery series (1944-47).
Producer: Lucien Hubbard
Director: Charles Brabin
Screenplay: Eve Greene, Zelda Sears, from novel by Morris Lavine
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Art Direction: Eddie Imazu
Original Music: William Axt (uncredited)
Editing: Adrienne Fazan
Cast: Richard Dix (John Day), Madge Evans (Dorothy Day), Conway Tearle (George Hollins), Una Merkel (Mamie), Stuart Erwin (Jerry), George Spanky McFarland (Johnny Day), Isabel Jewell (Kate Lovett).
by Roger Fristoe