Edward G. Robinson in I Am the Law (1938)


(director: Alexander Hall; screenwriters: Joe Swerling/based on a story appearing in Liberty Magazine by Fred Allhoff; cinematographer: Henry Freulich; editor: Viola Lawrence; music: Morris Stoloff; cast: Edward G. Robinson (John Lindsay), Barbara O’Neil (Jerry Lindsay), John Beal (Paul Ferguson), Wendy Barrie (Frankie Ballou), Otto Kruger (Eugene Ferguson), Arthur Loft (Tom Ross), Marc Lawrence (Eddie Girard), Douglas Wood (District Attorney Beery), Robert Middlemass (Moss Kitchell), Louis Jean Heydt ( J.W. Butler), Fay Helm (Mrs. Butler), Ivan Miller (Inspector Gleason), Joe Downing (Kom Cronin); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Everett Riskin; Columbia Pictures; 1938)

“Unconvincing but lively formulaic crime drama programmer.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Alexander Hall (“There’s Always a Woman”/”Here Comes Mr. Jordan”/”Forever, Darling”) directs this unconvincing but lively formulaic crime drama programmer, a star vehicle made to order for the hammy Edward G. Robinson. It supposedly loosely follows the law career of New York Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey.

John Lindsay (Edward G. Robinson) is an endearing absent minded law professor who reluctantly begins a sabbatical that has him going on an ocean voyage with his loyal wife Jerry (Barbara O’Neil). But Lindsay ends up attending uninvited the Governor’s Civic Committee, where civic leaders are discussing the racketeers taking over their unnamed city and their inability to get a special prosecutor. One of the committee members, Eugene Ferguson (Otto Kruger), whose son Paul (John Beal) was an honor student of Lindsay’s, finagles to get Lindsay appointed as special prosecutor thinking he would be a joke. Eugene, under the cover of being a legit businessman, actually runs the protection racket, that’s muscling in on all the businesses in the city. Ferguson’s partner is the gangster Moss Kitchell (Robert Middlemass) and Eugene’s main squeeze is Frankie Ballou (Wendy Barrie), a former journalist whose heart went out to the smarmy Eugene and his ambitious crime organization. Eddie Girard (Marc Lawrence) is the brutal mob enforcer, who feels so protected by the corrupt city that he slays mob rival Kom Cronin (Jow Downing) on the dance floor in front of the special prosecutor and gets away with the crime. When Lindsay gets stifled because the mob fills his City Hall staff with spies causing him to get fired, instead of giving up the spunky prof takes on the mob as a private citizen with the help of his able law students.

There’s nothing surprising about the routine crime story, but it has a dynamic Robinson give a few Knute Rockne type of pep talks to rally his students, get down and dirty on the dance floor to dance the ‘Big Apple’ with Barrie, go through a running gag about always leaving his lit pipe in his jacket pocket so it smolders and have an out of character fist fight with a loan shark to show he’s not just an academic. None of it is believable for a Noo Yawk sec, but you may let down your resistance for such a cornball crime fighter when caught up in how harmless and rip-snorting is the melodrama. I could, but for only so long.