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Saturday, November 3, 2012

STATE'S ATTORNEY (1932)

John Barrymore’s journalist pal (later his biographer) Gene Fowler did him no favors on this poorly structured legal drama. It breaks up the remarkable run of performances Barrymore gave from ‘32 to ’34, before alcohol took him out of action and largely reduced him to supporting roles. Playing a heavy drinking attorney to the rich & corrupt, he falls for one of his clients, Helen Twelvetrees, very sympatico as call-girl turned mistress. But when he switches sides to become the new State’s Attorney, setting up a likely run for Governor, he finds himself compromising whatever remains of his professional integrity, even leaving his mistress for a proper wife. Fowler (or someone) had a nice idea here with Barrymore’s character losing principles as he gains sobriety, kicking out tru-love for a respectable wife. But nothing in the direction (from an over-parted George Archainbaud), story construction or in Barrymore’s undisciplined burlesque manner adds up . . . and the drinking plays into Jack’s worst habits. (Very different then the tragic alcoholic actor, Barrymore would soon play in DINNER AT EIGHT/’33.)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Barrymore is at his greatest as the attorney in William Wyler’s superb adaptation of Elmer Rice’s COUNSELLOR AT LAW/’33, the play that established Paul Muni as a B’way star.

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