erik lundegaard

Thursday March 21, 2024

Movie Review: The Verdict (1946)

Number nine... number nine... number nine...


This is the ninth and final film Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre appeared in together. Chronologically:

  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Casablanca (1942)

Helluva one-two punch. Warner Bros. probably thought “Hey, why not put them in a movie with George Raft? He’s another Bogart, isn’t he?”

  • Background to Danger (1943)

OK, so back to Bogie. 

  • Passage to Marseille (1944) 

Wait, what if we made them the stars?

  • The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)

Or remade “Casablanca,” kinda, with Paul Henreid reprising, and Hedy Lamarr in the Ingrid Bergman role?

  • The Conspirators (1944)

And then the rest:

  • Hollywood Canteen (1944)
  • Three Strangers (1946)
  • The Verdict (1946)

Nine movies in five years. If that seems like a lot, consider that Greenstreet appeared in only 24 films and all of them within one calendar decade: from “Maltese Falcon” in 1941 to “Malaya” in 1949. He died in 1954.

Puffy and wan
I wish “Verdict” were better but at least it’s not bad. Greenstreet is well-cast as an 1890s Scotland Yard superintendent, while Lorre is miscast as a devil-may-care artiste and libertine. That role has Claude Rains written all over it.

The movie exudes its Britishness so much that it feels a bit like a Gaumont production. Nope. Filmed on the Warner Bros. lot by montage director Don Siegel, given his first helming gig, with perpetual fog, close streets, top hats, overcoats and London cabs, along with Cockney 101: “I (fill in the blank), I did.”

It opens with an execution at Newgate Prison, congratulations from a constable to Supt. Grodman (Greenstreet), followed by Grodman’s lament that artists create symphonies and paintings while he, if he does his job well, merely creates death. Then he goes to Scotland Yard and discovers the man they’d just hanged was innocent. He’d claimed his alibi was in Wales, but they’d never found him. Because he’d gone to New South Wales—in Australia. For some reason, Grodman becomes the scapegoat for all this, he’s asked to resign, and the opportunistic John R. Buckley (George Coulouris), all but paddling his fingertips together, takes his place.

And with what great underlying contempt Greenstreet annunciates “Buckley” for the rest of the film.

Initially stunned at being let go, Grodman pivots to writing a memoir of his 30 years of policing, which might prove a manual for new Yard recruits, with illustrations by his artist friend Victor Emmric (Lorre). One evening, the two are drinking with Arthur Kendall (Morton Lowry), the nephew of the wrongfully executed man, when Clive Russell (Paul Cavanaugh) shows up. Russell is an MP working with the miners of Brockton—one assumes he leans left—and Kendall despises his politics. And vice versa. Outside, Russell threatens Kendall. Then showgirl Lottie Rawson (Joan Lorring) shows up and she threatens Kendall, too. And the next morning Kendall is found dead and the movie becomes a classic whodunit.

Turns out, three of the men—Emmric, Kendall and Russell—live across the street from Grodman in a rooming house run by the vaguely hysterical Mrs. Benson (Rosalin Ivan). She’s the one who bangs on Grodman’s window when Kendall can’t be roused, and Grodman is the one who busts the door open to find Kendall dead—knifed in the chest. But how? The door and windows were all locked. And there was no other exit. 

Part of the fun is Grodman watching Buckley fumble the investigation. He brings in a thief (Clyde Cook) to theorize how a man could be murdered in a locked room, but the thief discounts all of his own suppositions. For a time, Lottie is his prime suspect. Clive has an alibi—he was on the train to Brockton—but then they find out: No, he was with a married woman but refuses to name her, and anyway Buckley finds circumstantial evidence in his desk, and he’s charged and sentenced to hang. Grodman travels to France in pursuit of the married woman. Alas, she’s dead. And all the while we begin to suspect Emmric. Why is he hiding in Grodman’s study? Why is he lurking in the stairwell outside Lottie’s dressing room? And isn’t he Peter Lorre? Surely, he did it.

Or did Grodman concoct the whole thing to make Buckley look bad?

Grodman concocted the whole thing to make Buckley look bad. 

Kendall, you see, was drugged, not dead, when Grodman broke in his door. And when he sent the suggestive Mrs. Benson screaming for police, that’s when he killed him. He confesses all to Emmric in the end.

Again, it’s not bad, it’s just not quite right. Shouldn’t Grodman seem more insane to do what he does? In his review in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther gets it exactly right: “Neither gentleman approaches his assignment with apparent satisfaction or zest. Mr. Greenstreet is puffier than usual, and Mr. Lorre more disinterested and wan.”

Little bit
What I found of historical interest? During the Clive Russell jury deliberations, you have a mini-“12 Angry Men,” as one juror holds out on conviction. He doesn’t buy that a man could be smart enough to knife a man in a locked room but dumb enough to leave evidence refuting his alibi in his desk. But he folds more quickly than Henry Fonda.

Per 1940s Warners, we also get a song, sung from Lottie, in a music hall. It’s called “Give Me a Little Bit” by M.K. Jerome and Jack Scholl, and damn if it doesn’t prefigure, in almost litigious ways, Lerner and Loewe’s “With a Little Bit of Luck” from “My Fair Lady.” Particularly the “little bit” part. Which is the catchy part. I see no evidence that it ever led to a lawsuit. Maybe there were plenty of “little bit” songs? Maybe it’s too little of a bit to count as plagiarism? If “My Fair Lady” were released today, though, with “The Verdict” within memory, social media would be all over it. Not to mention IP lawyers.

Posted at 02:19 PM on Thursday March 21, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 1940s  
« 'Completely Off His Rocker'   |   Home   |   Poking Holes in Potatoes »