D: Lewis Allen / 88m
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Nina Foch, Hugh Marlowe, Jayne Mansfield, Albert Dekker, Howard St John, Ellen Corby, Edward Platt, Jan Merlin
When ace district attorney Victor Scott (Robinson) gains a conviction in the case of wife murderer Edward Clary (Star Trek’s DeForest Kelley), he couldn’t be more pleased as it maintains his impressive run of convictions. Clary is sentenced to be executed but as he goes to the chair, a death bed confession by another man proves Clary’s innocence. Alerted to the confession, Scott tries to halt the execution but is too late. His professional reputation in tatters, Scott takes to the bottle. Self-pitying and pushing away anyone who might help him, particularly his assistant Ellen Miles (Foch), Scott eventually pulls himself together but determines to take on only defence cases from then on. In the process he falls in with local gangster Frank Garland (Dekker). Scott defends Garland’s men when they end up in court, and on one occasion goes to extreme lengths to gain an acquittal. Soon he begins to regret the course he’s chosen and tries to extricate himself from Garland’s clutches. And then Ellen ends up on trial for the murder of her husband Ray (Marlowe), giving Scott a chance to redeem himself for the mistake he made with Clary, and ensure that Garland is brought to justice.
A remake of The Mouthpiece (1932), Illegal is a fast-paced courtroom drama with fine performances (though Foch can be a trifle stiff at times), and an early appearance for the buxom Mansfield. Some of Scott’s motivations are a little bit hazy, especially when he begins working for Garland, but Robinson, consummate professional that he is, doesn’t allow this to interfere with the need for pushing the story forward. As Garland, Dekker is a great foil for Robinson, and gives a firm reminder of why he was such a reliable supporting actor in the Forties. There are a number of twists and turns, a mole in the DA’s office who must be uncovered (though the culprit is revealed early on), the usual lack of a romantic involvement for Robinson (he never did that well with the ladies), and some typically hard-boiled dialogue chewed on with relish by the largely male cast.
Directed with flair by Brit-born Allen (also responsible for The Uninvited – see review posted on 31 October 2013), Illegal is a legal potboiler that still retains a great deal of charm and is a pleasant enough way to spend an hour and a half. On the downside, the sets are quite drab – evidence of a tight budget – and the photography is perfunctory, composed largely of medium shots. It’s mostly predictable too, but this isn’t a drawback, and while there’s the odd misstep along the way (which might cause a grimace), the movie is an acceptable addition to the genre. Plus there’s a great score from the ever-reliable Max Steiner. There’s always an in-built reassurance with this type of movie, and if you’re a fan, you’ll be pleased you caught up with it.
Rating: 6/10 – minor problems with production values aside, Illegal benefits from a committed turn by Robinson and assured direction by Allen; not a classic but enjoyable nonetheless.