If you took a film noir and removed the noir, you might have something like Criminal Court. The plot is noir. An upstanding attorney (Tom Conway) accidentally kills mobster (Robert Armstrong) and runs off, unknowingly leaving his girlfriend (Martha O’Driscoll) to take the wrap.
What does Conway do? Does he try to falsify evidence to save his girlfriend? Does he sacrifice? Nope. He confesses and when no one believes him, he sort of just sits passively through the rest of the movie and hopes something will make it all better.
There’s no angst, no guilt. Conway even tells the district attorney he didn’t report the incident because Armstrong brought it on himself. It is, apparently, an attempt to mix noir with righteousness. And, wow, does it fail.
What makes Court so awkward is what it does with the space left empty by the lack of internal conflict. It does nothing. The movie only runs an hour. It doesn’t try comedy, it doesn’t try introducing a subplot (there aren’t any in the film), it doesn’t try anything at all.
Until Armstrong dies, Criminal Court has a lot of potential. Armstrong’s just great here. Conway’s fine, but unable to overcome the script. O’Driscoll’s writing is worse, but her performance is still weak.
The supporting cast is excellent, Steve Brodie and Joe Devlin in particular.
Wise’s direction has occasional flourishes–a dolly shot here and there–but it’s fairly static and unimaginative overall, as though he couldn’t feign interest either.
Cute finale though.
Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Lawrence Kimble, based on a story by Earl Felton; director of photography, Frank Redman; edited by Robert Swink; music by Paul Sawtell; produced by Martin Mooney; released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring Tom Conway (Steve Barnes), Martha O’Driscoll (Georgia Gale), June Clayworth (Joan Mason), Robert Armstrong (Vic Wright), Addison Richards (District Attorney Gordon), Pat Gleason (Joe West), Steve Brodie (Frankie Wright), Robert Warwick (Mr. Marquette), Phil Warren (Bill Brannegan) and Joe Devlin (Brownie).