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GUILTY HANDS (director: W.S. Van Dyke; screenwriter: Bayard Veiller; cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad; editor: Anne Bauchens; music: L. Andrieu/Domenico Savino; cast: Lionel Barrymore (Richard Grant), Kay Francis (Marjorie West), Madge Evans (Barbara Grant), William Bakewell (Tommy Osgood), C. Aubrey Smith (Rev. Hastings), Polly Moran (Aunt Maggie), Alan Mowbray (Gordon Rich), Forrester Harvey (Spencer Wilson), Sam McDaniel (Jimmy, a Black Servant), Blue Washington (Johnny, a Black Servant); Runtime: 68; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hunt Stromberg; MGM; 1931)
Time has not been kind to the mannered way it was filmed.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

W.S. Van Dyke directs an early talkie crime drama. It’s from the story by Bayard Veiller, who also provides the screenplay. The potboiler though unbelievable at every turn is nevertheless kept lively by many plot twists and Lionel Barrymore’s very entertaining hammy performance. Time has not been kind to the mannered way it was filmed, as it looks outdated.

Richard Grant (Lionel Barrymore) is a prominent former New York DA and is now a prominent defense attorney, who sent many to the electric chair and saved just as many from a death sentence. He pompously proclaims to friends there’s such a thing as a justifiable murder.

Grant soon finds out his young daughter Barbara (Madge Evans) is to marry a 47-year-old client of his named Gordon Rich (Alan Mowbray), a philandering wealthy playboy and cad who caused the suicide of a young girl and got countless women into trouble. When Babs doesn’t heed his advice and insists upon the marriage, he visits Gordon and warns the Lothario that he’ll murder him–and get away with it–if he doesn’t change his mind about marrying his only daughter whom he loves more than anything else in the world. The next night at a dinner party for friends announcing that the wedding is to take place tomorrow morning at Gordon’s mansion, Grant delivers a threatening toast that is understood only by the would-be bridegroom. While a number of guests stay at the main house with Gordon, including Reverand Hastings (C. Aubrey Smith), around for the marriage ceremony, Marjorie West (Kay Francis), the mistress of Gordon, and Tommy (William Bakewell ), Babs’ ex-boyfriend who still loves her. Meanwhile Grant stays at a nearby bungalow on the estate. That night Grant pulls off what seems like the perfect murder as he makes good on his threat to Gordon, making Gordon’s death look like a suicide. But Marjorie, who still loves him and doesn’t want her man to look like a coward, discovers how Grant pulled off the murder. Grant then uses his DA skills and influences to frame Marjorie, and it becomes a question if he’ll get away with it. Also, it raises the question if there is such an animal as a justifiable murder.

Barrymore’s gimmick to gain an alibi, knowing that he’s being watched all night by Gordon’s black servants, is by positioning a revolving cardboard silhouette to create a continually moving shadow in the bungalow while he kills Gordon in the main house. This same idea was appropriated in the Astaire-Rogers musical Gay Divorcee (34), but for comical purposes.REVIEWED ON 4/4/2005 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”