Counsel for Crime


1h 2m 1937

Brief Synopsis

Law school graduate Paul Maddox (Douglass Montgomery), adopted son of Senator Robert Maddox (Thurston Hall), accepts an offer to join the law firm of William "Bill" Mellon (Otto Kruger), brilliant but unscrupulous criminal attorney. Mrs. Maddox (Nana Bryant) is actually Paul's real mother, although neither the Senator nor Paul know it, and Bill Mellon is his father. Yes, it is one of "those" plots. Paul is at first critical of Mellon's sharp practices, but he relents when Ann McItyre (Jacqueline Wells, long before she ever thought about being Julie Bishop) convinces him it's all within the law, a fact most law school graduates would have learned in law school. Gambler Georgie Evans (Stanley Fields) comes to Mellon and tells him he has just killed Harrison, another underworld character, and insists it was in self defense. Mellon coaches Evans in how to tell his story to the police, then sends him to police headquarters to give himself up, and then assigns Paul to follow up on the case. While Evans and Paul are on separate routes to the police station, Evans stops by Harrison's and kills him under circumstances corresponding with Mellon's fool-proof alibi version already supplied before the act. Truly a good example of why it is best to consult an attorney before committing a rash act. Mellon learns of this post-dated action but, for a large sum of money from Evans, agrees to have his firm represent him and assigns Paul the task. Paul, of course, wins Evans an acquital. Paul later learns that the killing was committed after Evans had retained Mellon and quits the firm. Paul's moral snit does not extend past the point of allowing his adopted-father's influence getting him appointed Assistant District Attorney. Paul begins a probe against malpractice in the law profession, and Mellon hires Mitchell (Marc Lawrence) to dig up scandal on state officials sponsoring the probe. Mitchell does this even better than Mellon anticipated, especially when he comes back with the truth about Paul actually being Mrs. Maddox' own son. When Mitchell refuses to give up the papers with the proof, he and Mellon struggle and Mitchell dies from a shot from his own gun. Mellon is charged with murder and Paul is the prosecutor. Will Paul send his real Pa to jail for life?

Film Details

Also Known As
The Man Behind the Law
Release Date
Sep 14, 1937
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Columbia Pictures Corp. of California, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp. of California, Ltd.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 2m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7 reels

Synopsis

Following his graduation from law school, Senator Robert Maddox's adopted son Paul is offered a job at Bill Mellon's law firm. Mellon, an unscrupulous criminal lawyer, is actually Paul's real father, but keeps the fact a secret from him. When gambler Georgie Evans tells Mellon that he has just killed a man named Harrison in self-defense, Mellon advises him to turn himself in, and tells him exactly what say to keep him from going to prison. Mellon assigns Paul to handle Evans' case, and while Paul is on his way to police headquarters, Mellon, who lied about having killed Harrison, deliberately murders Harrison and makes it look as if he committed it in self-defense by following Mellon's prescribed advice on how to tell the story to the police. Though Mellon later discovers that he has been duped by Evans, he nevertheless agrees to let Paul defend him for a high price. Paul, unaware of his client's guilt, defends him in court and wins his acquittal. When Paul learns that he helped set a guilty man free, he resigns from Mellon's firm and gets a job as assistant district attorney. Soon after taking the position, Paul spearheads an investigation into legal malpractice, which worries Mellon and prompts him to assign Mitchell to implicate those investigating them in a scandal. Mitchell finds evidence that Mrs. Maddox is Paul's real mother, but when he refuses to hand it over to Mellon, Mellon and he fight over it and Mitchell is accidentally shot by his own gun. Paul successfully prosecutes his own father, who is convicted of second-degree murder because he refused to discuss the content of the papers over which he and Mitchell were struggling. After the sentencing, Mellon has Mrs. Maddox swear an oath of secrecy so that Paul will never know that his real father was sent to jail for a crime he did not commit.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Man Behind the Law
Release Date
Sep 14, 1937
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Columbia Pictures Corp. of California, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp. of California, Ltd.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 2m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7 reels

Articles

Marc Lawrence (1910-2005)


With his sharp glare, pockmarked cheeks, clipped speech pattern and menacing air, Marc Lawrence had certainly carved a reputation for himself as one of the screen's finest character actors for villainous roles. Lawrence, whose career was harmed by the Hollywood blacklist in the '50s, died of natural causes on November 27 at his home in Palm Springs. He was 95.

Born Max Goldsmith on February 17, 1910, in the Bronx, Lawrence had his heart set on a career in drama right out of high school. He enrolled at City College of New York to study theatre, and in 1930, he worked under famed stage actress Eva Le Gallienne. Anxious for a career in movies, Lawrence moved to Hollywood in 1932 and found work immediately as a contract player with Warner Bros. (an ideal studio for the actor since they specialized in crime dramas). He was cast as a heavy in his first film, If I Had a Million (1932). Although his first few parts were uncredited, Lawrence's roles grew more prominent: a sinister henchman in the Paul Muni vehicle in Dr. Socrates (1935); a conniving convict aiding Pat O'Brien in San Quentin (1937); a menacing thug stalking Dorothy Lamour in Johnny Apollo (1940); the shrewdly observant chauffeur in Alan Ladd's breakthrough hit This Gun For Hire (1942); and one of his most memorable roles as Ziggy, a fedora wearing mobster in the Bogart-Bacall noir classic Key Largo (1948).

Lawrence, when given the opportunity, could play against type: as the prosecuting attorney challenging Tyrone Power in Brigham Young (1940); a noble aristocrat in the Greer Garson-Walter Pidgeon period opus Blossoms in the Dust; and most impressively, as a deaf mute simpleton in the rustic drama The Shepherd of the Hills (both 1941). Better still was Lawrence's skill at comedy, where his deadpan toughness worked terrifically as a straight man against the likes of Joe E. Brown in Beware Spooks (1939); Abbott and Costello in Hit the Ice (1943); Penny Singleton in Life with Blondie (1945); and Bob Hope in My Favorite Spy (1951).

After that, Lawrence's career took a turn downward spin when he was labeled a communist sympathizer during the Hollywood witch hunts of the early '50s. He was exiled in Europe for a spell (1951-59), and when he came back, the film industry turned a blind eye to him, but television overcompensated for that. Here he played effective villains (what else?) in a series of crime caper programs: Peter Gunn, Johnny Staccato, The Untouchables, Richard Diamond, Private Detective; and eventually made a welcome return to the big screen as a returning exiled gangster in William Asher's underrated mob thriller Johnny Cool (1963).

It wasn't long before Lawrence found himself back in the fray playing in some big box-office hits over the next two decades: Diamonds Are Forever (1971), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Marathon Man (1976), Foul Play (1978); and The Big Easy (1987). Sure he was cast as a gangster, but nobody could play a rough and tumble mob boss with more style or conviction.

Interestingly, one of his finest performances in recent years was in television, as a severely ill old man unwilling to accept his fate in a fourth season episode of ER (1997-98). His last screen role was just two years ago, as a nimble minded VP in Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003).

In 1991, Lawrence published a memoir about his venerable career, Long Time No See: Confessions of a Hollywood Gangster that received much critical acclaim. He has also developed a cult following due to his appearances in such offbeat items as From Dusk to Dawn and Pigs aka Daddy's Deadly Darling, the 1972 horror film he directed and starred in with his daughter Toni. He is survived by his wife, Alicia; two children from a previous marriage, Toni and Michael; and a stepdaughter Marina.

by Michael T. Toole
Marc Lawrence (1910-2005)

Marc Lawrence (1910-2005)

With his sharp glare, pockmarked cheeks, clipped speech pattern and menacing air, Marc Lawrence had certainly carved a reputation for himself as one of the screen's finest character actors for villainous roles. Lawrence, whose career was harmed by the Hollywood blacklist in the '50s, died of natural causes on November 27 at his home in Palm Springs. He was 95. Born Max Goldsmith on February 17, 1910, in the Bronx, Lawrence had his heart set on a career in drama right out of high school. He enrolled at City College of New York to study theatre, and in 1930, he worked under famed stage actress Eva Le Gallienne. Anxious for a career in movies, Lawrence moved to Hollywood in 1932 and found work immediately as a contract player with Warner Bros. (an ideal studio for the actor since they specialized in crime dramas). He was cast as a heavy in his first film, If I Had a Million (1932). Although his first few parts were uncredited, Lawrence's roles grew more prominent: a sinister henchman in the Paul Muni vehicle in Dr. Socrates (1935); a conniving convict aiding Pat O'Brien in San Quentin (1937); a menacing thug stalking Dorothy Lamour in Johnny Apollo (1940); the shrewdly observant chauffeur in Alan Ladd's breakthrough hit This Gun For Hire (1942); and one of his most memorable roles as Ziggy, a fedora wearing mobster in the Bogart-Bacall noir classic Key Largo (1948). Lawrence, when given the opportunity, could play against type: as the prosecuting attorney challenging Tyrone Power in Brigham Young (1940); a noble aristocrat in the Greer Garson-Walter Pidgeon period opus Blossoms in the Dust; and most impressively, as a deaf mute simpleton in the rustic drama The Shepherd of the Hills (both 1941). Better still was Lawrence's skill at comedy, where his deadpan toughness worked terrifically as a straight man against the likes of Joe E. Brown in Beware Spooks (1939); Abbott and Costello in Hit the Ice (1943); Penny Singleton in Life with Blondie (1945); and Bob Hope in My Favorite Spy (1951). After that, Lawrence's career took a turn downward spin when he was labeled a communist sympathizer during the Hollywood witch hunts of the early '50s. He was exiled in Europe for a spell (1951-59), and when he came back, the film industry turned a blind eye to him, but television overcompensated for that. Here he played effective villains (what else?) in a series of crime caper programs: Peter Gunn, Johnny Staccato, The Untouchables, Richard Diamond, Private Detective; and eventually made a welcome return to the big screen as a returning exiled gangster in William Asher's underrated mob thriller Johnny Cool (1963). It wasn't long before Lawrence found himself back in the fray playing in some big box-office hits over the next two decades: Diamonds Are Forever (1971), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Marathon Man (1976), Foul Play (1978); and The Big Easy (1987). Sure he was cast as a gangster, but nobody could play a rough and tumble mob boss with more style or conviction. Interestingly, one of his finest performances in recent years was in television, as a severely ill old man unwilling to accept his fate in a fourth season episode of ER (1997-98). His last screen role was just two years ago, as a nimble minded VP in Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003). In 1991, Lawrence published a memoir about his venerable career, Long Time No See: Confessions of a Hollywood Gangster that received much critical acclaim. He has also developed a cult following due to his appearances in such offbeat items as From Dusk to Dawn and Pigs aka Daddy's Deadly Darling, the 1972 horror film he directed and starred in with his daughter Toni. He is survived by his wife, Alicia; two children from a previous marriage, Toni and Michael; and a stepdaughter Marina. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

This film was reviewed under the title The Man Behind the Law in a pre-release Motion Picture Herald article.