Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Convicted (Weiss Bros., Supreme Pictures, Artclass, 1931)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Convicted, one of several movies of that title (including a 1950 Columbia production that was the third version of The Criminal Code and got listed in The Film Noir Encyclopedia even though the editors conceded that “prison pictures are rarely noir movies”), though this was made in 1931 for a variety of studio labels — Supreme Features (as opposed to Supreme Pictures, a later company that made Westerns exclusively), Weiss Bros. and “Artclass Pictures” (not to be confused with Artcraft, a label Paramount used in the silent era to denote Mary Pickford’s films and their other prestige items) — and directed by former D. W. Griffith assistant Christy Cabanne (who worked for a long time but did not rise to the heights of other former Griffith assistants who became directors themselves, like Erich von Stroheim, Tod Browning and Raoul Walsh) from a script by Jo Van Ronkel, based on a story by Ed Barry with additional dialogue from our old Reefer Madness friend, Arthur Hoerl.

The 1931 Convicted takes place entirely on an ocean liner (except for a brief opening showing the ship docked and people getting on it) and features Aileen Pringle (a first-rate and ill-used actress who should have had a major studio career and instead graced — and improved — a lot of indies) as Claire Norvelle, an actress who just finished a run in a flop play and is taking an ocean voyage to get away from the unwelcome romantic advances of her producer, Tony Blair (Richard Tucker) — the American Film Institute Catalog synopsis (which incidentally lists this film as “not viewed”) calls him “John Blair” but both the first and last names of the later Prime Minister of Great Britain are audible on the soundtrack. Blair is also confronted on board by his former mistress, Constance (Dorothy Christy), who manages to look something like an avenging angel in her blonde hair and skin-tight black dress (she dresses considerably better than Aileen Pringle does and one wonders why Blair wants to leave her for Pringle’s character), complaining that Blair is jilting her for Claire and, since she also tells him (and us) that she’s aware he has a wife, reminding me of Robert Penn Warren’s line from All the King’s Men: “He’s already cheating on his wife with you. You need a new arithmetic to describe what he’s doing to you!”

Blair is such a slimy villain — we later learn he’s not only a failed theatrical producer but an embezzler who stole $100,000 from a company he worked for and is fleeing the country with it — he’s actually the most fun character to watch and it’s a pity he gets bumped off halfway through the film, right after he’s given Claire a white box (which, especially if we’ve seen enough other movies of this period, we assume contains a jeweled bracelet, necklace or some other incredibly expensive piece of precious gem-encrusted bric-a-brac) and she’s forthrightly turned down his gift and even refused to look inside the box to see what she’s rejecting. Claire is, as far as we know, the last person to see him alive — she hit him with a candlestick to fend off his rape attempt after she turned down his present, though apparently not hard enough to kill him — so naturally she’s suspected of the murder and told to confine herself to her stateroom for the duration of the voyage, until the ship hits port and she can be turned over to a law-enforcement agency (though the script ducks the interesting and knotty issue of just who has jurisdiction to prosecute a murder that occurs on board a civilian ship on the high seas). Needless to say, there’s a good guy, reporter Bruce Allan (Jameson Thomas), who works to solve the crime himself and incidentally falls in love with Claire, and eventually he traces it to a ship’s officer who killed Blair for his ill-gotten gains.

Convicted is simply not a good movie — it’s rather aimlessly plotted, Cabanne’s direction is straightforward and surprisingly unexciting for what’s theoretically supposed to be a mystery, and while Pringle and Christy turn in finely honed, fully credible performances, the males in the cast (except for Tucker, who as noted above is killed off way too soon) are far below their talent level. Even though it only runs 55 minutes (this was one archive.org download that came in under an hour not because the film had been edited for TV in the 1950’s but because it had been that short on its initial release!) it’s still pretty much an endurance test.