This week’s mystery movie was the 1932 RKO picture “State’s Attorney,” with John Barrymore, Helen Twelvetrees, Jill Esmond, Ralph Ince, William Boyd, Albert Conti, Mary Duncan, Frederick Burton, C. Henry Gordon, Paul Hurst and Oscar Apfel.
Associate producer James Kevin McGuinness, screenplay and dialogue by Gene Fowler and Rowland Brown, from a story by Louis Stevens. Art director Carroll Clark, photography by Leo Tover, recorded by George Ellis, edited by Charles L. Kimball. Directed by George Archainbaud, executive producer by David O. Selznick.
“State’s Attorney” is available on DVD from Warner Archive.
After last week’s “Counsellor at Law,” I thought it would be interesting to dip into other Pre-Code films in the Daily Mirror’s vaults. “State’s Attorney” wasn’t my first choice, but my preferred picture wasn’t available.
“State’s Attorney” was made made shortly after David O. Selznick took over at RKO in November 1931 and was John Barrymore’s first film for the studio. The film is mainly useful to demonstrate the skill with which William Wyler reined in Barrymore’s excesses while George Archainbaud let him run free – or at least off leash from time to time. The story about a mob lawyer who is jumps the fence to the district attorney’s office and goes straight is also weak and improbable. The plot most resembles a creaky old story found in a musty and moldering copy of the Saturday Evening Post.
Leo Tover’s photography is excellent and he went on to have a long career that included “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “The Snake Pit” and (yes) “The Conqueror.” He was nominated for Academy Awards for black and white photography for “The Heiress” and “Hold Back the Dawn.”
RKO originally borrowed screenwriter Rowland Brown from Universal to direct the picture, and Mary Astor was originally cast as the second female lead. One film magazine reported that shooting was postponed after Barrymore was injured in a car accident, although I haven’t been able to confirm this in news accounts of the period. Helen Twelvetrees, meanwhile, had been let go by Fox because of a perceived lack of personality.
Writing in the New York Times (May 6,1932), Mordaunt Hall said:
Like Warren William in “The Mouthpiece,” which is now at the Winter Garden, John Barrymore impersonates a shady, astute lawyer in “State’s Attorney,” a picture which came to the Mayfair last night….
It is a highly fictional film story with incidents that are not especially pleasant. Some of the doings surprised the audience and although these sequences aroused laughter, they are not really necessary to the story. It is, nevertheless, for the most part a good entertainment, but it is not life. It has its smart patter and spectacular stunts in courtrooms that hold one’s attention, but the pivotal idea of a youth who has served a term in a reform school blossoming into an attorney for a murderous racketeer and then being elected district attorney is hard to swallow.
Perhaps Mr. Barrymore tackles the role with the necessary sense of humor, although he is not the restrained player he has been in other films. His acting, however, is ingratiating, although he is handicapped by George Archainbaud’s hard and fast direction and the zealousness of the script writers to put a punch into their work or sink rather low in their hope to arouse laughter.
Film Daily (May 8, 1932) said:
The authors tried to crowd in the highlights from several recent sensational New York City trials, and with Barrymore first a crooked criminal lawyer turning state’s attorney, the action and plot are pretty scrambly. It is very episodic and continuity quite jumpy. A very conscious straining to give Barrymore a chance to strut his histrionics and be theatrical in his court room scenes is evident, and this throws the story out of kilter. Nevertheless, it proves a good vehicle for the screen star and as such it must be judged rather than on the merits or demerits of the story. The Barrymore profile is very much in evidence in close-ups throughout and no doubt the ladies will go for this in a big way. But Barrymore’s lightning change act from crooked lawyer to upright state’s attorney, throwing over the girl who was his intimate pal, marrying another while drunk, then back to his first love in the finale, lacks conviction.
For Monday, we have a mystery gent. His companion has been cropped out due to insufficient mysteriousness.
Update: Here is the uncropped version of the image, showing John Barrymore and Oscar Smith.
For Tuesday, we have this mystery gent.
Update: This fellow was quite puzzling and identifying him is a challenge. The dialogue identifies him as James Domino, which tends to eliminate him as Albert Conti, who plays Mario. The cast list can be quite thin in some of these Pre-Codes. Some of the trades have more extensive cast lists, including people not included in the IMDB page, but these folks are really obscure and hard to identify. Whenever I post mystery guests whose identification is questionable, it’s always in the hopes that the Brain Trust will conclusively identify them.
We also have these two mystery gents. They are amused by such goings-on.
Update: I originally thought the man on the left was Gladden James, but now I’m less less convinced. On the right, Frank Mills.
For Wednesday, we have a mysterious pair of legs…
… that belong to this mystery guest.
Update: This is Mary Duncan.
We also have this mystery woman.
Update: This is Jill Esmond.
And finally, a very serious mystery woman who most certainly does not approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is Blanche Friderici.
For Thursday, we have a mystery gent in a three-piece suit. And you know what? He doesn’t approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is William “Stage” Boyd.
And here he is with Helen Twelvetrees.
And look who else we have. He objects strongly to such goings-on.
Update: This is Leon Wycoff (sometimes Waycoff), later Leon Ames.
Brain Trust roll call: Dan Nather (mystery movie and Wednesday’s mystery guests) and Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie, Tuesday’s mystery newsmen and Wednesday’s mystery guests).
And for Friday, our mystery leading man and mystery leading lady.
Update: This is Helen Twelvetrees and John Barrymore.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (mystery movie and Monday’s mystery guest, Tuesday’s Mystery Reporter No. 2, Wednesday’s mystery guests, and Thursday’s mystery guests), Tucson Barbara (mystery movie, Monday’s mystery guest, Tuesday’s Mystery Reporter No. 2, Wednesday’s mystery guests and Thursday’s mysterious prosecutor), David Inman (mystery movie, Wednesday’s mystery judge and Thursday’s mystery prosecutor), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery guests), Gary (Thursday’s mystery prosecutor), Sarah (Thursday’s mystery prosecutor), Dan Nather (Monday’s mystery gent and Thursday’s Mystery Gent No. 1), Thom and Megan (mystery movie, Wednesday’s Mystery Woman No. 2 and Wednesday’s mystery judge) and Sylvia E. (mystery movie, Monday’s mystery gent, Tuesday’s Mystery Reporter No. 2, Wednesday’s mystery women and mystery judge, and Thursday’s mystery guests).