This week’s mystery movie was the 1933 (copyright 1934) Universal picture “Counsellor at Law,” with John Barrymore, Bebe Daniels, Doris Kenyon, Isabel Jewell, Melvyn Douglas, Onslow Stevens, Thelma Todd, Clara Langsner, J. Hammond Dailey, Mayo Methot, Bobby Gordon, Malka Kornstein, Vincent Sherman, Marvin Kline, T.H. Manning, John Qualen, Angela Jacobs, Richard Quine, Barbara Perry, Elmer H. Brown, Conway Washburn and Frederick Burton.
Screenplay by Elmer Rice, art direction by Charles D. Hall, photography by Norbert Brodine, edited by Daniel Mandell. Directed by William Wyler. Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.
“Counsellor at Law” is available on DVD from Amazon.
“Counsellor at Law” brought interesting results from the Brain Trust. Folks either knew it well or not at all. John Barrymore had not yet given into his excesses as a scenery-chewing drunk, and as a Pre-Code attorney, I would put him ahead of Warren William (“The Mouthpiece”) and on a par with William Powell (“Lawyer Man” and “For the Defense”).
I would rank Isabel Jewell as the leading Pre-Code switchboard operator while Eve Golden places her neck and neck with Polly Waters, who was the “Queen of the PBX” in “Five Star Final,” “Manhattan Parade,” “Fireman, Save My Child,” “Love Is a Racket,” “American Madness” and I may have overlooked one or two.
As the “Office Wife,” suffering silently in her crush on her boss, we have Bebe Daniels. And does she suffer. None of the wisecracking secretary nonsense for her.
“Counsellor at Law” opened on Broadway on Nov. 6, 1931, and ran for 292 performances with Paul Muni as attorney George Simon. The film used several people from the original cast, including Vincent Sherman (Harry Becker), J. Hammond Dailey (Charley McFadden), Angela Jacobs (Goldie Rindskopf), Malka Kornstein (Sarah Becker), T.H. Manning (Peter J. Malone), Elmer Brown (Francis Clark Baird), John M. Qualen (Johann Breitstein) and Marvin Klein (Herbert Weinberg). With Muni in the leading role, the play was revived from Sept. 12, 1932, to May 27, 1933 for 120 performances and from Nov. 24, 1942 to July 10, 1943 for 258 performances.
Note: Lantern isn’t working at the moment, so I can’t give a more complete history of the movie. I’m curious as to whether the trades said anything about Barrymore replacing Muni but that will have to wait for later.
Universal bought the rights to the play in March 1932 for $175,000 ($3.2 million USD 2019). Casting was announced in September 1933 with Muni replaced by Barrymore. Barrymore finished his scenes in late September 1933 while filming continued. The film opened in New York in December 1933 (yes, a fast turnaround), against Muni’s film “The World Changes” for Warner Bros. At this point in his career, Muni had made “Scarface” and “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang” and one might wonder whether audiences would accept him as an attorney.
Muni left the Broadway production of “Counsellor at Law” in June 1932, replaced by Otto Kruger, to fulfill a Hollywood contract, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and this was presumably “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang” for Warner Bros.
Writing in the New York Times (Dec. 8,. 1933), Mordaunt Hall said:
John Barrymore is to be seen in an incisive and compelling pictorial translation of Elmer Rice’s play “Counsellor at Law,” which undoubtedly owes no small part of its strength to the fact that the screen script was written by the author himself. The film, which has succeeded “Little Women” at the Radio City Music Hall, moves along with lusty energy, the scenes being so complete that none of them seems a fraction of a minute too long. Parts of the stage work have perforce been omitted, but where this occurs Mr. Rice and the director, William Wyler, leave nothing in doubt.
The part of Simon, which was acted on the stage by Paul Muni, is, of course, played in the film by Mr. Barrymore, who gives to it the vigor, imagination and authority one might expect. The characterization is believable and thoroughly sympathetic. Simon is a lawyer who lives largely for his work, even though he is devoted to his faithless wife, whose children by a former husband hold themselves aloof from their mother’s second husband. Mr. Barrymore makes the most of Simon’s ability to think fast and of his blindness to the devotion of his secretary.
Bebe Daniels gives one of her best screen performances as the secretary. Doris Kenyon is attractive and convincing as Simon’s wife. Melvyn Douglas appears to advantage as Roy Darwin, with whom Mrs. Simon is infatuated.
Writing Dec. 17, 1933, in The Times, Hall said:
The mere fact that Mr. Muni is a Jew and that Mr. Barrymore is a Gentile makes little if any difference to the portrayal. As a matter of fact, Mr. Barrymore had the more difficult task inasmuch as he had to give the part the same velocity on the screen with many an interruption that Mr. Muni gave to it on the stage without any interruption and with the encouragement of the audience. It is, as was his part in the picture of “A Bill of Divorcement,” a portrayal that is well-night perfection.
For Monday, we have a mysterious injured gent who absolutely, positively does not approve of such goings-on. His mystery companion is concerned.
Update: This is Vincent Sherman and Malka Kornstein, both from the original Broadway cast. It’s his film debut and her only movie.
For Tuesday, we have this mysterious gent in his only film role.
Update: This is J. Hammond Dailey, also from the original Broadway cast.
We also have this mystery gent in one of his two film roles.
Update: This is T.H. Manning, also from the original Broadway cast.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and Monday’s mystery guests), Sheila (mystery movie and Monday’s mystery guests), Floyd Thursby (mystery movie and Monday’s mystery guests) and Eve (mystery movie and Monday’s mystery guests). All the more impressive when you know that this was our mystery woman’s only film role and that her mystery companion only appeared in seven films.
For Wednesday, we have two mysterious juveniles. Our mystery young man has 30 acting credits on IMDB. Our mysterious young lady, who made her debut in this mystery film, has 84 acting credits on IMDB. And, as incredible as it may seem, despite their tender ages, they do not approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is future director Richard Quine (“Solid Gold Cadillac,” and “Bell, Book and Candle” and Barbara Perry
We also have this mystery woman, with four acting credits on IMDB.
Update: This is Clara Langsner.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (Tuesday’s mystery guests), Dan Nather (mystery movie and all mystery guests) and David Inman (mystery movie and Tuesday’s mystery guests).
For Thursday, we have a mysterious switchboard operator.
Update: This is Isabel Jewell.
We also have this mystery woman.
Update: This is Mayo Methot.
And finally, this mysterious gent. The leading man has been cropped out due to insufficient mysteriousness. Suffice it to say our leading man does not approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is John Qualen, also from the original Broadway cast.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (Wednesday’s mystery guests) and Dan Nather (mystery movie and Wednesday’s mystery guests).
For Friday, our first mystery woman is powdering her face.
Update: This is Thelma Todd.
We have Mystery Couple No. 1.
Update: This is Melvyn Douglas and Doris Kenyon.
Here’s Mystery Couple No. 2, the leading man and his mysterious “office wife.”
Update: Bebe Daniels looks longingly at secret crush John Barrymore.
Finally, another mystery woman.
Update: This is “the Dutchess.” Angela Jacobs as Goldie Rindskopf.
Brain Trust roll call: Dan Nather (mystery movie, our two future movie directors, Wednesday’s mystery mother and Wednesday’s mystery girl, and Thursday’s mystery guests), Mary Mallory (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Sue Slutzky (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Don Danard (Thursday’s mystery guest en route to Casablanca), Suzanne Stone (Thursday’s mystery guest en route to Casablanca), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery guests), Sylvia E. (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Thom and Megan (mystery movie, Wednesday’s mystery juveniles and Thursday’s mystery guests) and Tucson Barbara (mystery movie, Tuesday’s mystery gent with the cigar, and Wednesday’s and Thursday’s mystery guests).