Criminal Court
Tom Conway and Martha O'Driscoll

Released in November, 1946, CRIMINAL COURT was Wise's fifth feature for RKO and his first to include musical numbers.
Tom Conway and Martha O'Driscoll

Tom Conway and Martha O'Driscoll

Like so many B movies from that period, this crime drama (with two songs, sung by female costar Martha O'Driscoll) had audiences in and out of the theater in a little over an hour. Accomplishing this, according to Wise, had a lot to do with the story and screenplay: "To tell so much plot in so short a time, the B-pictures had fully developed stories and well-rounded screenplays."*

It was Wise's editing experience which also gave him an even better sense of filmmaking economy: "When I was a film editor and after, we considered a normal film about one hour and a half maximum. If you got a first cut that came in at about one hour forty-five minutes, you would worry that it was going to be too long...."*

To current filmgoers it is hard to believe that in 1946 you got to watch gangsters, lawyers, murder, political corruption and a couple of musical numbers in only 62 minutes!

Synopsis Criminal attorney Steve Barnes has made a name for himself with his clever courtroom tactics and dedication to justice.  After Steve, who is running for district attorney on a "clean government" platform, exposes Bob J. "Brownie" Brown, a phony eyewitness in a gangland murder case, as a perjurer, he is contacted by Brownie's boss, gangster and nightclub owner Vic Wright.  Wright, with whom Steve's girl friend, singer Georgia Gale, has just gotten a job, has learned that Steve owns motion pictures showing Man with a Gunmembers of his gang, including his brother Frankie, bribing various public officials. Acting on orders from his superior, Marquette, to stop Steve at any cost, Wright offers the lawyer a $50,000 campaign "contribution" in exchange for the motion picture negatives.  After Steve refuses the bribe, Wright tells him that he has damaging information about him and demands that he not screen the movies for his supporters.  Despite Wright's threats, Steve shows the pictures that night at his campaign headquarters, but slips away while they are being projected to confront Wright. Before Steve arrives, Steve's secretary, Joan Mason, consults with Wright in his nightclub office.  Joan, who is acting as a spy for Wright, agrees to track down the motion picture negatives and then leaves the office through one door just as Steve comes in by another.  Unaware that Joan is eavesdropping on their conversation, Steve laughs off Wright's attempts to scare him with a phony jury tampering confession and slugs the gangster.  Infuriated, Wright goes for a gun hidden in a wall panel and threatens Steve with it.  During the subsequent struggle, the gun falls and accidentally shoots and kills Wright.  Steve returns to his headquarters without calling the police and thereby inadvertently sets up Georgia, who had an appointment with Wright, to be caught by Frankie with the murder weapon in her hand.  After a terrified Georgia flees the scene and is arrested, Steve confesses his part in the case.  The district attorney, however, is sure that Steve is lying and indicts Georgia on murder charges. Marquette, meanwhile, has ordered Joan not to reveal herself as an eyewitness and has flunky Joe West offer Steve her testimony in exchange for the motion picture negatives.  When Georgia deduces that Steve is about to sacrifice his campaign for her freedom, she insists that he pursue the case honestly.  The unsuspecting Steve then asks Joan to hire an investigator to track down West's "eyewitness," and the guilt-ridden secretary inadvertently reveals a fact about the case that only an eyewitness could know.  During Georgia's trial, Steve suddenly realizes what Joan has done, and after calling her as a surprise witness, thwarts West's attempts to shoot her in court and extracts a confession out of her.  With Georgia completely exonerated, Steve then proposes to his ecstatic girl friend.

From the AFI Catalog of Feature Films

Wise Facts
  • CRIMINAL COURT's producer, Martin Mooney, was a former crime reporter.
  • The two songs from the film, "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" and "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening," were made popular by Frank Sinatra.
  • Credits: 63 min. RKO Radio Pictures; Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures;  Directed by: Robert Wise;  Produced by: Martin Mooney;  Screenplay by: Lawrence Kimble;  Edited by: Robert Swink;  Director of Photography: Frank Redman;  Music by: Paul Sawtell;  Production Design by: Albert S. D'Agostino & Lucius O. Croxton;  Sound by: Francis M. Sarver & Roy Granville;  Costumes by: Adele Balkan.
    Tom Conway Cast  Tom Conway (Steve Barnes), Martha O'Driscoll (Georgia Gale), June Clayworth (Joan Mason), Robert Armstrong (Vic Wright), Addison Richards (District Attorney Gordon), Pat Gleason (Joe West), Steve Brodie (Frankie Wright), Robert Warwick (Marquette), Phil Warren (Bill Brannegan), Joe Devlin (Bob J. Brownie Brown), Lee Bonnell (Gil Lambert), Robert Clarke (Dance director), Nancy Saunders (Secretary), Tom Noonan (Cab driver), Phil Dunham (Hankinson), Dick Rush (Wilson), Sam Ash (Jennings), Colin Kenny (Roberts), Homer Dickenson (Butler), Robert Smith (Doyle), Johnny Indrisano (Headwaiter), Tony Barrett (Reporter), Mike Lally (Reporter), Carl Hansen (Reporter), Lee Frederick (Kellogg), Harry Harvey (Judge), Jason Robards (Marsh), Charles Regan (Assistant district attorney), Max Rose (Bailiff), Jack Gordon (Second gunman), Joe Gray (First gunman), Eddie Borden (Court clerk), Stanley Blystone (Bartender), Don Kerr (Page boy), Sam Flint (Inspector Carson), Joe Bernard (Luther), and Alf Haugan (Foreman of jury).

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    1.Robert Wise On His Films, p. 76
    2.Robert Wise On His Films, p. 76

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