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A prosecutor fights to prove the defendant in a scandalous murder case is innocent.
On Main Street in a small city in Connecticut, Father George M. Lambert, a much-loved, civic-minded minister, is shot in the head and killed during his nightly after-dinner stroll by a man in a dark coat and light hat. The town's newly elected reform government, which has made some inroads in city planning, is severely criticized by the newspaper The Morning Record for failing to find the killer, despite having seven witnesses to the crime. The whole community is outraged as The Record , owned by T. M. Wade, an opposition figure, ruthlessly attacks the police and city government for their amateurism. Supporters of the government, including banker Paul Harris, anger State's Attorney Henry L. Harvey by suggesting that the FBI be brought in. When the commissioner angrily confronts Chief of Police Harold F. "Robby" Robinson, an honest but cynical policeman, Robby decides to quit, but Henry convinces him to stay on, as he has gotten civic leaders to agree to back him for two weeks without interference. After the seven witnesses agree that the murderer was wearing a dark coat and light hat, a composite drawing of the suspect is circulated, and suspects throughout New England are picked up and forced to appear in police line-ups. Finally, the Ohio State police locate a man who matches the description and owns a gun of the same caliber used in the slaying, and who also left the Connecticut city a few days earlier. The man, John Waldron, is extradited, and when the witnesses pick him out of a line-up, he is booked. During a tough interrogation, Waldron, a disgruntled ex-serviceman, tells a number of lies to police, who learn that he had lived in the city for at least two months and had met and spoken with Father Lambert. Furthermore, Waldron left town after breaking up with a waitress, Irene Nelson, who is now bitter toward him. Once Robby learns that the bullet that killed Lambert came from Waldron's gun, he presses more intensely, despite his inner doubts about Waldron's guilt, until Waldron, in a daze, signs a confession. At the coroner's inquest, Waldron says he was forced to sign the confession, yet the testimony of witnesses leads the coroner to refer the case to the district court. Henry then questions Waldron in his cell to learn what his defense will be. When Waldron, who had a good war record, states that he left town because he did not want the unskilled jobs available, and hoped to start a small business somewhere else, Henry is moved, but Waldron accuses Henry of wanting to see him hanged and lashes out. At the indictment hearing, Henry reviews the evidence against Waldron, which seems overwhelming, then surprises everyone by saying that he believes Waldron to be innocent. The judge, in his chambers, warns Henry that he will take steps to have him disbarred and prosecuted for malfeasance of office if his motives are political. Robby turns away from Henry in disgust, and "Mac" McCreery, a reform politician, who has been grooming Henry for the governor's race, asks Henry if one man's life is worth more than the community. When Henry answers that it is, Mac warns that he will have to fight the whole town. Henry then is confronted by Harris, who argues that the party needs a conviction to win the election and reveals that he owns the Sunset Realty Company, which controls land planned for a recreation area. If the party does not win, he states, the new government will not purchase the land, and Harris will stand to lose all his money. As Henry is making a call to report Harris' actions to the proper authorities, Harris pulls a gun, then reveals that Henry's wife Madge, as chairman of the project, has unwittingly given $2,500 to help buy the land, a transaction that, however innocent in intent, would not look good in the newspapers. Henry then finds that Madge loaned the money for the playground when cash was needed. At court the next day, Henry asks to reserve his plea until he has laid evidence before the court. After he questions the witnesses, who assert they saw Waldron, he reveals that he recreated the crime seven times with his men and that none of them could identify the one portraying the murderer. When Irene asserts that she is certain she saw Waldron pass her café window, Henry relates that when he stood in the same spot in the steam-filled room, he could not make out his assistant as he passed by the window. Henry then reveals that Irene had applied for the reward offered for evidence and sternly warns her about the penalty for perjury. After Irene states that she is now unsure whether she saw Waldron, a cashier at a movie theater, which Waldron said he attended the night of the murder, testifies that she did not sell Waldron a ticket. Henry then casts suspicion on this witness, when she also states that she has never seen the man whom Henry sent the previous week to buy a ticket. Henry goes on to show that Waldron's confession was suggested to him when he was in a state of exhaustion. Henry also notes that part of the bullet was left in the deceased's brain and that five independent experts contend that the bullet could not have been fired by Waldron's gun. Admitting that everything he had previously stated is inconclusive, Henry has the judge put bullets in Waldron's gun, then has an assistant point it at him in the same position from which it must have been fired at Father Lambert. The gun fails to fire, and Henry reveals that it has a faulty mechanism and cannot shoot from that angle. A gunshot is then heard in the courtroom, and Harris, who has received a note from Dave Woods, a reporter who has found out about the realty company, slumps over, having shot himself. Afterward, Wade admits defeat, and Robby apologizes to a grateful Henry. The murderer is never found, but suspect Jim Crossman, a troubled man whom Father Lambert had urged to enter a sanitarium after hearing his confession, is chased by police for speeding and dies in a car crash.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||London opening: 26 Jan 1947; Los Angeles opening: 28 Feb 1947|
|Release Date:||1947||Production Date:||
|Color/B&W:||Black and White||Distributions Co:||Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.|
|Sound:||Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)||Production Co:||Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.|
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