With only nine days of shooting and the tightest of budgets, Don Siegel and ace lenser John Alton almost make this ‘hopeless’ murder case defense story work. If only Karen DeWolf’s script had a bit more surprise & nuance. After an elderly farm owner & his housekeeper are murdered during a nighttime robbery, married caretakers Teresa Wright & John Craven living in the cottage next door are quickly pinned with the crime. He did the shooting; she panicked and got rid of the gun. Only he didn’t do it and the gun that would have proved his innocence is now lost. Court appointed attorney Macdonald Carey reluctantly takes the case, then goes on to wreck his personal & professional life by bankrolling their defense and hunting the real killer. The film takes too many obvious/simplistic turns working its way thru this, and the occasional slapdash look often exposes threadbare working conditions. But there’s good atmosphere & clever use of real locations mixed in, especially when Alton gets a chance to work his ‘Prince of Darkness’ magic. And what telling characterizations Siegel finagled out of his mongrel cast, including a tasty early turn from wild-eyed Jack Elam.
DOUBLE-BILL: Carey brings similar commonsense purpose & courage (as newspaper editor rather than lawyer) to Joseph Losey’s harrowing migrant injustice story, THE LAWLESS/’50.