AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Public Defender
Alternate Title: The Reckoner
Director: J. Walter Ruben (Dir)
Release Date:   1 Aug 1931
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 31 Jul 1931
Duration (in mins):   70
Duration (in reels):   8
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Cast:   Richard Dix (Pike Winslow)  
    Shirley Grey (Barbara Gerry)  
    Purnell Pratt (John Kirk)  
    Ruth Weston (Rose Harmer)  
    Edmund Breese (Wells)  
    Frank Sheridan (Charles Harmer)  
    Alan Roscoe (Inspector Malcolm O'Neil)  
    Boris Karloff ("Professor")  
    Nella Walker (Aunt Matilda)  
    Paul Hurst ("Doctor")  
    Carl Gerard (Cyrus Pringle)  
    Robert Emmet O'Connor    
    Phillip Smalley    
    William Halligan (Auctioneer)  
    Rochelle Hudson (Operator)  

Summary: When the Central Realty Trust Company declares insolvency, Eugene Gerry, its treasurer, is falsely accused by his fellow officers--Thomas Drake, John Kirk, Charles Harmer and Cyrus Pringle--of negligence and is turned over to the authorities for indictment. Soon after, Drake is robbed of his business papers by "The Reckoner," a Robin Hood type of thief who always leaves a "scales of justice" calling card with his victims. At a dinner club, Gerry's daughter Barbara confides to Pike Winslow, a longtime family friend who is also friendly with Gerry's betrayers, her father's predicament. While Pike, who enjoys a reputation as a carefree adventurer, consoles Barbara, Harmer finds one of The Reckoner's cards, which reads "See you next week," under his sandwich. At home, Pike, who is revealed to be The Reckoner, confers with his confederates, "Doctor" and "Professor," about how best to vindicate Gerry and help Barbara. To save Barbara and her disapproving Aunt Matilda financially, Pike arranges to buy secretly much of the Gerry estate at an auction. Pike then plots with Doctor and Professor to steal Harmer's business documents. While Pike, Professor and Doctor hide outside Harmer's well-protected house, Kirk meets with Harmer to discuss the murders. Fearing incrimination, Harmer asks Kirk to take the damning papers from his safe, but Kirk refuses and leaves. Pike and his cohorts then overwhelm Harmer's guards and servants, knock out Harmer and steal the papers. Later, Pringle receives one of The Reckoner's calling cards and rushes to confer with Kirk. When an hysterical Pringle announces that he is going to confess to the police, Kirk first threatens him, then reassures him. Pringle is shot and killed, and The Reckoner is accused of the crime. Although he is advised to stay hidden, Pike insists that he needs more evidence and devises a plan to expose Kirk. From his unsuspecting friend, Inspector Malcolm O'Neil, Pike learns that Pringle's calling card had fingerprints on it. Pike then demands to accompany O'Neil and the police to Kirk's house, where they have been instructed to wait for The Reckoner. Just before The Reckoner's scheduled appearance, the lights go out in Kirk's house, and Pike steals the needed documents. When Kirk later deduces Pike's identity and corners him, Pike overwhelms him with a mild explosive and escapes. The police and Kirk follow Pike to Barbara's apartment, and are about to arrest him when he forces Kirk to put his fingerprints on paper that has been coated with lipstick. After turning Kirk's damning prints and documents over to O'Neil, the banker is arrested. Pike, pardoned by O'Neil, then embraces Barbara. 

Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: J. Walter Ruben (Dir)
  James Anderson (Asst dir)
Producer: William LeBaron (Prod)
  Louis Sarecky (Assoc prod)
Writer: Bernard Schubert (Adpt and dial)
Photography: Edward Cronjager (Photog)
  Bob De Grasse (2d cam)
  Russell Metty (2d cam)
  Jack Landrigan (2d cam)
  Willard Barth (Asst cam)
  Harold Wellman (Asst cam)
  Edward Adams (Asst cam)
  Charlie Burke (Asst cam)
Film Editor: Archie F. Marshek (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Max Rée (Scenery)
Costumes: Max Rée (Cost)
Sound: John E. Tribby (Rec)
Production Misc: Fred Hendrickson (Still photog)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the novel The Splendid Crime by George Goodchild (London, 1930).
Authors: George Goodchild

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. 22/7/1931 dd/mm/yyyy LP2375 Yes

Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Photophone System

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Crime
Subjects (Major): Adventurers
  Swindlers and swindling
Subjects (Minor): Auctions
  Fathers and daughters
  Police inspectors
  Secret documents

Note: The working titles of this film were The Million Dollar Swindle and The Reckoner . HR reviewed the picture as The Million Dollar Swindle . RKO borrowed Shirley Grey from Samuel Goldwyn's company for this production. According to a 3 May 1931 FD news item, at the time that the production was to go into rehearsal, Henry Hobart was "supervising" the project. Hobart is not credited on screen, however. Carl Gerard replaced Wilbur Mack in the role of "Cyrus Pringle," according to a FD news item. Another FD news item adds Roberta Gale to the cast, but her participation in the final film has not been confirmed. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   3 May 31   p. 26.
Film Daily   14 May 31   p. 66.
Film Daily   22 May 31   p. 8.
Film Daily   26 May 31   p. 6.
Film Daily   12 Jul 31   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Jun 31   p. 3.
International Photographer   1 Aug 31   p. 29.
New York Times   1 Aug 31   p. 16.
Variety   4 Aug 31   p. 21.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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