Cast & Crew
Three Furies rise from the blood of a woman who has been murdered and sweep through the city, hovering over scenes of violence and sin. Attorney Lee Gentry is called the "Champion of the Damned" because he obtains acquittals for guilty criminals. The appellation pleases him, however, as he has no conscience regarding his work and feels that "the only crime punishable by death is stupidity." Impatient to end his relationship with Spanish dancer Carmen Brown, he contrives a plan to make it appear as if she were having an affair with her old flame, Eddie White. This done, he picks up his relationship with glamorous socialite Katy Costello. Distraught over their break-up, Carmen threatens suicide. When Gentry visits her, he surreptitiously places her pistol in his pocket. Carmen has been made aware of Gentry's ruse by her friend Buster Malloy, and accuses him of deceit, but he is unmoved. As he leaves, Carmen throws herself at him, and in a struggle for the gun, Gentry accidentally shoots her. Thinking he has killed her, Gentry loses his smugness, and his "alter-ego" appears as an apparition and guides him through a cover-up of the murder. When the phone rings, Gentry answers and alters his voice, hoping to persuade the caller that Carmen had a new gentleman caller during the hour of her death. He then embellishes his alibi by attending a movie theater, and meeting with Buster to complain that he has not been able to contact Carmen for days. Gentry returns to Katy and confesses his deed to her, knowing she is discreet. After he outwits the grand jury investigators, Gentry attends Carmen's nightclub to maintain his cover, but meets up with Della, a friend of Carmen who saw him at the movie theater on the day of Carmen's death. Gentry becomes unnerved, and when Della's boyfriend, Eddie White, appears, she tells him that Gentry has been harassing her. Eddie hits Gentry, and as Gentry falls back, he shoots Eddie. Dazed, Gentry sees Carmen begin her performance as the police take him away, and realizes that she is alive after all. At the police station, Gentry's previous behavior toward Eddie makes his shooting seem like premeditated murder. Gentry's newly-found conscience advises him to take his own life, but a policeman takes the gun away from him before he can pull the trigger. Gentry's conscience denounces him as a coward while the Furies laugh at him.
The Bobby Duncan Troupe
The title card of the film is preceded by the live action sequence "Furies," described above, and the written statement: "Beyond man's dreams lurk the Furies-the three sisters of Evil who lie in wait for those who live dangerously and without Gods." Although the cast credits appear before the title, all other credits run at the end of the film, an order unusual for the time. According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in May 1934, Paramount submitted the script to the MPPDA office in New York for approval. Vincent G. Hart of the MPPDA's Eastern Studio Relations office responded to the script with a letter indicating the film had two major flaws with respect to the Production Code. One problematic point was the portrayal of Gentry as a criminal lawyer who constantly beats the justice system, and the other was the suggestion that Gentry was "keeping" Carmen, evidenced by the key he had to her apartment. The fact that he then throws her over only to enter into another illicit romance also disturbed Hart. Another cause for concern was the fact that after Gentry believes he has killed Carmen, he removes evidence of his fingerprints, an action in films disapproved of by police authorities, according to Hart. In June 1934, Hart visited the set to view the filming of a courtroom scene, where he was assured by general manager Rosson that the original shooting of Carmen, which was described by Hart as a "gruesome fight," had been changed to an accidental shooting, and that the production had taken great effort to handle the matter of the cleaning up of evidence delicately. Hart deemed the film in violation of the Production Code after a July 1934 screening. In an August 1934 letter to Paramount, Hart cited several Production Code violations found in the film: "The prologue emphasizes illicit sex relationships which are unnecessary to plot motivation and are therefore in violation of the Code," specifically, the scene of a "business man taking the stenographer in his lap, [the] sequence of the man placing himself in the arms of the girl on the bed, and the scene of the woman on the couch." In addition he noted that "the costumes of the 'Furies' are so light as to constitute indecent exposure prohibited by the Code," and that scenes in which Gentry removes the key to Carmen's apartment from his coat, and takes a gun from a policeman in the station with which to kill himself are also not permissible. According to a news item in Daily Variety, Charles MacArthur personally flew a print of the picture to Los Angeles in early August for viewing by Joseph I. Breen, director of the AMPP. In a telegram to Hart, Breen said that while he supported Hart's decisions, he believed that with alterations approved by Hecht and MacArthur, the film could be made acceptable under the Production Code. The changes required involved deletions from the prologue, and an alteration of the ending as originally written, in which "Gentry" kills himself at the police station, to an ending in which "law...triumph[s] over crime and the criminal." With these final amendments, the film was issued a certificate of approval. This was the first Hecht-MacArthur production to be released by Paramount. This film marks the screen debuts of Margo Esther Dale and Whitney Bourne, and is the first film in which Claude Rains can be seen throughout the entire picture, his prior film being The Invisible Man. Publicity in copyright records note the following information: Mickey King, a circus aerialist, completed a 45-foot leap for the film. While visiting the set, Helen Hayes, MacArthur's wife, and Fanny Brice participated in the filming of a mob scene. Vorkapich and his film crew filmed scenes of New York City from the top of the Empire State Building, and filmed in front of J. P. Morgan's office for scenes of the financial district. Modern sources include sixteen dancers from the New York Hollywood Restaurant troupe in the cast. A biography of Ben Hecht notes that 80,000 feet of film were used in the production, which cost $172,000. Oscar Levant, in his autobiographical writings, states that he wrote some of the music for this film: "only the brittle, disillusioned parts, not the big tuttis."