Illegal marks the third time Warner Brothers told this tale of a lawyer's downfall and redemption. It was previously filmed as The Mouthpiece and The Man Who Talked Too Much with Warren William and George Brent playing the role that Edward G. Robinson does here. I've not seen the other two films as yet, but it's hard to imagine either of the other players doing it better. In fact both the other guys would certainly play it differently than Robinson.
Illegal finds Edward G. Robinson cast as a zealous prosecutor who convicts DeForest Kelley wrongly of murder. There's no last minute pardon from the governor however, no verdict set aside, because the evidence that could clear him comes as the switch is being thrown on the electric chair.
Robinson's an ambitious fellow who would like to have been governor or more, but this does set him back on his heels and he takes to drink. But soon enough he realizes he still has the skills so now he can put them to work for the other side.
That by the way is the standard way criminal defense attorneys are born, the best training they can receive can be as Assistant District Attorneys. After a nifty bit of legal legerdemain Robinson winds up working for mobster Albert Dekker. In the meantime his former assistant in the DA's office Nina Foch winds up killing her husband Hugh Marlowe when she discovers he's been a mole there for Dekker.
The legal legerdemain is by far the best bit in the film. Robinson gets James McCallion out of an embezzlement charge and fixes it so that McCallion's boss Howard St. John is left without a leg to stand on.
Jayne Mansfield lends her gravity defying presence to Illegal in one of her earliest films. She plays Dekker's moll and sings Too Marvelous For Words very badly. But as a singer it's not her voice that perks Dekker's interest.
In many ways the lead in this story is a dream role for a player. Every actor worth his salt wants a courtroom drama because of the histrionics involved. Robinson has several courtroom scenes on both sides of the fence and convicts and frees clients by some interesting methods.
In his memoirs Robinson called from 1949 with All My Sons until 1956 in The Ten Commandments as his B picture period. But I'm here to say that while the films weren't big marquee box office, they were pretty much well done dramas that Robinson brought his sense of professionalism to each role. Illegal is one of the best of them.
Crime / Drama / Film-Noir
Crime / Drama / Film-Noir
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Ambitious D.A. Victor Scott zealously prosecutes Ed Clary for a woman's murder. But as Clary walks "the last mile" to the electric chair, Scott receives evidence that exonerates the condemned man. Realizing that he's made a terrible mistake he tries to stop the execution but is too late. Humbled by his grievous misjudgement, Scott resigns as a prosecutor. Entering private practice, he employs the same cunning that made his reputation and draws the attention of mob kingpin, Frank Garland. The mobster succeeds in bribing Scott into representing one of his stooges on a murder rap and Scott, in a grand display of courtroom theatrics, wins the case. But soon Scott finds himself embroiled in dirty mob politics. The situation becomes intolerable when his former protege in the D.A.'s office is charged with a murder that seems to implicate her as an informant to the Garland mob. Can Victor defend the woman he secretly loves and also keep his life?
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