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When prostitute June Perry is arrested for tapping on the window of gangster Valentine "Vanny" Powers in a solicitous manner, Powers' attorney, Tom Cardigan, defends her in court. By convincing the jury and the female judge that June's tapping could have been the tapping of an innocent mother or wife, Tom secures an acquittal for his attractive client and later takes her to his bachelor "hideout" apartment. Because of her past, June becomes Tom's mistress but, like a wife, worries about his excessive drinking and his criminal associations. After Powers is shot and wounded by his rival, "Birdlegs" Duffy, Tom is asked by Powers to take a job as the district attorney's first assistant, but Tom refuses, stating that if he ever became a prosecutor, he would be an honest one. Lured by the prospect of the governorship, however, Tom eventually joins the district attorney and soon takes over his job. As promised, Tom becomes a rigorous prosecutor, forcing confessions out of killers with the same dramatic flair he used to defend Powers and his gang. Although still in love with June, Tom is tempted by the adoring Lillian Ulrich, whose father is a powerful political boss, and during a drunken night out with her, marries her. That same night, Tom breaks the news to June, who is devastated but understanding. Tom, however, quickly realizes that he has made a mistake with Lillian and arranges for an annulment. Soon after, Powers murders Duffy in front of June, and June is arrested as a material witness. During Powers' trial, Tom questions June, who out of fear for Tom's life, has refused to name Powers, and eventually forces an identification out of her. As part of his summation, Tom then reveals to the court that he and Powers had served time together in a reform school on a burglary charge. After declaring himself a phony, Tom renounces his ambitions and reunites with June.
C. Henry Gordon
Charles L. Kimball
James Kevin Mcguinness
David O. Selznick
John Barrymore gives a charming performance as the shameless attorney who will pull out every stop in the courtroom if it will help him win a case. 1932 was a top-drawer year for Barrymore films. State's Attorney followed on the heels of his highly praised work in Arsène Lupin, Rasputin and the Empress, George Cukor's A Bill of Divorcement and MGM's Best Picture winner that year, Grand Hotel.
State's Attorney is a fast-paced pre-Code gem that features sharp dialogue, excellent performances and a winning mix of comedy and courtroom melodrama that is sure to please fans of both genres. RKO also released a sanitized remake called Criminal Lawyer in 1937 starring comedian Lee Tracy.
By Andrea Passafiume
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The story was supposedly based on the life of criminal lawyer William J. Fallon, who defended 126 homicide cases without any convictions.
Although the end credits on the viewed print list Oscar Apfel's character as "Mr. Ulric," in the film itself, as well as in all contemporary sources, he is called "Ulrich." The Variety review commented that the participation of writer Gene Fowler in the production suggested that the story was based on the life of the late New York criminal lawyer, William J. Fallon. A former assistant district attorney, Fallon, whose nickname was "Broadway's Cicero," died in 1927 of liver failure after winning an acquittal for himself on a bribery charge. According to Gene Fowler's biography of Fallon, The Great Mouthpiece (New York, 1931), Fallon defended 126 homicide actions without a conviction and saved more than fifty persons from execution. Fallon was also the unacknowledged subject of Warner Bros.' 1932 film The Mouthpiece, which beat RKO's film to the box office by a week . Variety contended that RKO "deliberately proceeded to confuse this association [with Fallon] by making hanging the capital punishment which, geographically at least, removes the locale from New York and suggests the state of Illinois more." RKO borrowed William (Stage) Boyd from Paramount for this film, according to modern sources. According to RKO inter-department memos, production on State's Attorney was delayed due to John Barrymore's participation in M-G-M's production of Grand Hotel. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Rowland Brown was first hired to direct the production but walked off the set in mid-February 1932 because RKO refused to hire photographer Lee Garmes, who had just left Paramount, to shoot the picture. Irving Pichel replaced Brown, and a week later, George Archainbaud replaced Pichel so that Pichel could play a role in the picture that Harry Bannister had been playing up until that time. It has not been determined whether Brown, who is credited as one of the film's writers, or Pichel actually directed any scenes included in the final film. In addition, neither Pichel nor Bannister is listed as a cast member in contemporary sources. According to an April 1932 Film Daily news item, Central Avenue in Los Angeles' African American district "doubled for" Harlem in the film. The same news item announced that a ten-piece orchestra and the "star performer of one of the clubs of the 'dark belt'," as well as blues singer Martha Ritchie were to appear in the production. Their participation in the final film has not been confirmed.
In a December 1931 letter to RKO producer Pandro S. Berman, Jason S. Joy, Director of Studio Relations of the AMPP, expressed his concern about some of the sexual situations that were presented in a synopsis of the film's proposed story line: "Ordinarily there would be some hesitancy on our part in advising you to undertake a story at this time in which another kept-woman is treated sympathetically, but in this case we feel that the man's character so dominates the scene and his relationship with the woman is so integral a part of his ambitious plannings that her presence is justifiable. We say this only with the reservation that care will have to be taken to avoid introducing too much sexiness in the details, or any undue emphasis of the physical facts of their life together." According to Joy's letter, Mary Astor was to play the part of "Lillian Ulrich," whose marriage to "Tom Cardigan" was necessitated in part by the plight of her brother, a character who is not in the finished film. Joy also complained that "the fact that Barrymore spends the night with Twelvetrees just after becoming engaged to another woman and the continuance of their relationship after his marriage" would cause a "great deal of criticism, even by the broad minded" and would detract from "Twelvetrees' character to have her accept a relationship which any woman with a spark of decency would feel was degrading and insulting." None of the above-mentioned scenes were included in the final film. According to modern sources, Selznick signed Barrymore to a two-picture deal in early 1932 for which he would earn $100,000 per film. (Bill of Divorcement was the second film.) Modern sources state that the film was shot in two weeks, in spite of Barrymore's frequent absences and late arrivals on the set. Although modern sources claim that the line "Winter's is not as bad as it's painted," which was a frequently quoted line of Barrymore's father Maurice, was included in the film, it was not heard in the viewed print. RKO remade State's Attorney in 1937 as Criminal Lawyer .