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STORY ON PAGE ONE, THE(director/writer: Clifford Odets; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Hugh S. Fowler; cast: Rita Hayworth (Jo Morris), Gig Young (Larry Ellis), Anthony Franciosa (Victor Santini), Robert Burton (D.A.), Mildred Dunnock (Mrs. Ellis), Hugh Griffith (Judge Neilson), Sanford Meisner (Phil Stanley), Raymond Greenleaf (Judge Carey), Jay Adler (Lauber), Alfred Ryder (Mike Morris), Leo Penn (Morrie Goetz), Katherine Squire (Mrs. Brown); Runtime: 123; 20th Century Fox; 1959)
“An above par courtroom drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An above par courtroom drama, set in Los Angeles, elevated by director/screenwriter Clifford Odets’ sharp script. He originally intended it to be a play. It was also elevated by an outstanding cast, with special kudos to Rita Hayworth’s warm portrayal of a woman in an abusive marriage and by Sanford Meisner’s forceful and expressive performance as the cross-examining prosecutor.

The bulk of the film takes place in the courtroom and since we immediately see the crime, we know that it was an accident and therefore the tension in the film comes in finding out if the two lovebirds accused of murder will be given a death sentence.

The opening shot is of the newspaper headline: “Mrs. Jo Morris (Rita) and Larry Ellis (Gig) held for murder.” Jo’s mother (Squire) is strapped for cash, but she visits the lawyer son of a mother who was under her nurse’s care before she died. The young lawyer, Victor Santini (Franciosa), is an angry man with a drinking problem, and acts surly toward Mrs. Brown. He refuses to take the case because he’s a small-time lawyer who will have to go against the D.A., who has an unlimited amount of money to spend to get his conviction. He is also dismayed that Mrs. Brown can’t afford to pay the fair amount it would take to have her daughter be ably represented. But when Mrs. Brown cries and lets him know how highly his mother spoke of him and how smart he is, working his way through Harvard Law School, the hardened lawyer changes his mind.

As Santini investigates what happened, he becomes convinced the couple is telling the truth. Larry is hired by Jo to be her accountant and has fallen in love with her. Larry’s a widower, who is burdened with an overbearing and self-righteous mother (Dunnock). She tries to lead his life for him. The love had long vanished from Jo’s marriage to her alcoholic husband (Ryder), whereby she has become indifferent. The two lovers were drawn together by their mutual problems and had been intimate only once.

Just before Larry did his friend Morrie’s (Penn) account in Sacramento, he learned from his mother that she had a private detective follow him and is now meddling in the hopes that he give up this married woman. Mrs. Ellis also visited Jo and warned her that if she doesn’t stay away from her son, she will tell her policeman husband. Worried about his mother’s interference and wishing to throw the private detective off his trail, Larry uses Sacramento as an alibi to shake his mother’s private detectives as he rushes back at night and comes to Jo’s house to secretly comfort her about what his mother did. Jo’s husband hears them in the kitchen and still drunk from the wedding attended, discharges his gun in a tussle with Larry. The hubby gets killed as the gun accidentally goes off.

The beauty in the film is in the long-drawn-out courtroom dramatics. Santini was able to get to the bottom of the case for his client Jo, whereas Judge Carey was basically ineffectual as Larry’s lawyer. He was more interested in doing what the domineering Mrs. Ellis wants him to do, rather than what’s good for her son. Santini had to virtually defend both of the lovers. The dynamic prosecutor, Mr. Stanley (Meisner), spun a scenario of the lovers in cahoots to knock off the husband and get the insurance money. He uses Larry’s bogus Sacramento alibi and her lie of a prowler around the house when she reported the murder, as proof that they can’t be trusted to tell the truth.

The story itself wasn’t too interesting but the performances were energetic and the film had a good courtroom style, enough to make this chatty film well worth seeing.

REVIEWED ON 11/27/2000 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”