Cast & Crew
Robert Strickland, a young businessman on trial for the murder of Gerald Trask, makes no effort to defend himself or cooperate with Arbuckle, his young and inexperienced attorney. He also shows no sign of distress as the prosecution recounts for the jury how he murdered the wealthy businessman, who apparently caught him burglarizing his home. When Gerald's wife Joan is called to the witness stand, she testifies that prior to the murder she witnessed Glover, her husband's secretary, putting a large sum of money in the living room safe. After that, she tells the jury, she answered a strange telephone call from an unidentified woman who asked to speak with her husband. Joan also informs the court that she had recently asked her husband for a divorce because of his deceitful ways, and that while she was on the phone, someone entered her home and grabbed her from behind. Gerald rushed to her aid, but he was shot by the assailant. Glover, the next witness to testify, confirms Joan's story and adds that Robert struck him with a cane to get the card with the combination of the safe from him. Robert's fate appears to be sealed by the evidence against him until the judge allows Doris, Robert's six-year-old daughter, to take the stand. Her testimony about her mother's unusual behavior at home on that particular day implicates her mother Mae in the crime. Doris says that she witnessed her mother anguishing over the loss of her purse that afternoon, and that she lied to Robert when a man delivered her purse and Robert found Gerald's address inside it. Doris also states that her father forced her mother to confess her affair with Gerald, the man to whom Robert owed $20,000, which Robert planned to repay that evening. Doris concludes her testimony with the revelation that when her mother phoned Gerald to warn him that Robert was on his way, she screamed "he killed him!" into the phone. When Mae is called as a witness, she states that Gerald was a womanizer who arranged a fake marriage between them and was then caught by his wife. She also says that years later he blackmailed her into continuing the illicit affair with threats of ruining Robert's business. Though Mae requests that she be the one to take the blame for her husband murdering the man who tormented her, the jury acquits her and Robert when Glover is revealed as the actual murderer. Glover, it is learned, murdered Gerald to steal the $20,000 that Robert had brought to the house. Following Glover's conviction, the Strickland family is joyfully reunited.
The working title for this film was The Strickland Case. According to a contemporary news item, On Trial was originally set for direction by William McGann. Information contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that the PCA informed Warner Bros. in December 1938 that the final script was "unacceptable from the point of view of the Production Code, for the reason that it repeatedly treats the subject of illicit sex with objectionable detail, and without compensating moral values." In addition, the PCA noted that the "objection refers to the details of those portions of the story characterizing Trask as an habitual adulterer and the detailed showing of Mrs. Strickland's relationship with Trask." Other films based on Rice's play include: the 1917 Essanay film On Trail, directed by James Young and starring Barbara Castleton and Sydney Ainsworth (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.3242); and the 1928 Warners' film On Trial, directed by Archie Mayo and starring Pauline Frederick and Bert Lytell (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.3980).