Seemingly determined to create the fastest movie ever made, Howard combines rapid-fire dialogue, an innovative use of whip pans, and a surging rhythm created by a repeated motif of crowds rushing up and down stairways to fashion a film that seems to unfold in a single, mad, headlong rush.
“Few films have had so much talk crammed into five reels”, wrote the film historian William K. Everson in 1982, “and yet few films have dazzled with so much visual virtuosity”. A young, blonde Joan Bennett plays the title role – a socialite accused of killing her faithless fiancé (Jameson Thomas) when she discovers him in the arms of a nightclub singer (Lilian Bond). Luckily, Vivienne’s love-struck former suitor (Donald Cook) is a leading attorney, who takes on her defense in a sensational trial.
With radio reporters Skeets Gallagher and ZaSu Pitts broadcasting live commentary (and comedy relief) to a breathless nation, Vivienne’s side of the story is revealed through a complex series of flashbacks (anticipating the structure of The Power and the Glory, filmed a year later), interrupted by no less than two murder attempts in the courtroom.
Howard here shows himself to be a complete master of the talkie melodrama. Of course, something has to give, and that something is logic and sanity. No courtroom procedure has ever seemed more frenzied or absurd, or more likely to get everyone disbarred – to say nothing of the security (?) that allows witnesses to be shot down on the witness stand. But forget logic: just enjoy the zaniness and excitement of it all.
William K. Everson, The New School Film Program Notes, July 14, 1982
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Kenneth M. Ellis. Scen.: Philip Klein, Barry Connors. F.: Ernest Palmer. M.: Ralph Dietrich. Scgf.: Gordon Wiles. Int.: Joan Bennett (Vivienne Ware), Donald Cook (John Sutherland), Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher (Graham McNally), ZaSu Pitts (Miss Gladys Fairweather), Lilian Bond (Dolores Divine), Jameson Thomas (Damon Fenwick), Herbert Mundin (William Boggs), Howard Phillips (Minetti). Prod.: Fox Film Corp. DCP 4K. D.: 55’. Bn.
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