My Review of ‘The People Against O’Hara’ (1951)

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WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ONE OR TWO POSSIBLE SPOILERS

This may not be the most prominent or widely praised film noir, but it is an unusual one. Often in film noir, lawyers are depicted either as unethical mouthpieces or as politically-connected chums with the prosecutor.

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Via Music Box Theatre.

In this case, we have a lawyer protagonist who bears more resemblance to Perry Mason than most. Except Perry knows where to draw the emotional line. This protagonist agonizes over the fate of his clients so hard, it has driven him in the past to excessive drink. And for that reason, he’s switched from a criminal to a civil law practice. Which is hardly a step down in status, unless of course you’re the protagonist of a crime picture. :)

So when a young man and friend of the lawyer from the old neighborhood named Johnny O’Hara (played by James Arness) is framed for a shooting, his parents turn to the retired criminal lawyer James Cartayne (played by Spencer Tracy). There are no witnesses. Well … maybe one. But as to what he saw … let’s just say it squares with the truism (among lawyers, at any rate) that eye witness testimony is the least reliable type of evidence.

Via IMDB.com.

Thus, Cartayne takes the case, even though his very protective daughter urges him not to, fearing he’ll relapse into his alcoholic ways.

The cops seem to think they have this all sewn up. It helps not at all that Johnny is not exactly forthcoming about what he was doing that night. And Cartayne senses that something’s off here, but feels powerless to stop the miscarriage of justice. This leads to — yep! — resumed heavy drinking.

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Make it a double.

Cartayne becomes so desperate, he crosses an ethical line. Let’s not be coy-I’ll tell you the spoiler. Cartayne bribes a witness. However, that witness didn’t really see who shot the victim. But he’s willing to say Johnny did it for the price of a paid vacation on the prosecution’s dime. So … unethical, yes. Horrible? Well …

Without revealing more spoilers than I already have everything, I’d note that Spencer Tracy’s performance is downright heartrending. His relationship with his daughter, Ginny (played by Diane Lynn), displays a warm chemistry between them.

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#NoirAlley hosted by @EddieMuller is back this weekend with THE PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA (’51) starring Spencer Tracy and Diana Lynn pic.twitter.com/fb9yHXWCjf

- Noir Alley (@NoirAlley) July 9, 2019

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It makes the ending that much tougher. But it’s the kind of ending that the Hays Office doubtless had no trouble approving.

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I think the performances and the moral complexity (not to mention that of the story) gives this one the edge!

This entry was posted in Film Noir, Movie Reviews and tagged Film Noir, Movie Review. Bookmark the permalink.

Originally published at http://debbimacktoo.wordpress.com on October 24, 2019.

New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website: www.debbimack.com.

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