Monday, May 21, 2012

Kay is Not Guilty

This week, we looked at a very underrated PreCode film from 1931.  Guilty Hands  stars Lionel Barrymore as Richard Grant, a lawyer who discovers that his beloved daughter is engaged to Gordon Rich (Alan Mowbray), a client with a horrible reputation as a womanizer and abuser (Rich probably murdered his last fiance).  Grant tells Rich that if Rich continues with his plan to marry Barbara Grant (Madge Evans), Grant will kill him AND will get away with it.  He will make sure it is the "perfect murder".  

It's not giving too much away to reveal that Grant DOES kill Rich.  But from there, we will leave you in some amount of suspense.  Kay Francis is wonderful here as Rich's mistress, Marjorie West (this is a pre-code, after all), who loves him in spite of his engagement to Barbara (and fully intends to keep on seeing him after his marriage).  When Rich dies, Marjorie begins investigating his death.  With some interesting results.
Lionel Barrymore is fantastic.  He is sympathetic, and at the same time, sinister.  You want to root for him, but he is, after all, a murderer.  Yet he did it for a good reason. leading the audience to feel ambivalent about the conclusion.  It is also a plot that keeps you guessing, right to the very end.  Will Richard be caught? SHOULD he be caught? It's also fun to see Ms. Francis' Marjorie take command as an amateur detective.  Agatha Christie was just beginning to write Miss Marple in 1926 (but only as a short story in a magazine. She would not appear in book form til 1932).  One would need to go back, we suspect, to Wilkie Collins (The Lady and the Law, as well as The Woman in White) for an earlier female detective, so Guilty Hands heroine is quite a novel idea.

If you can see this picture, do so.  It is worth your time.  We think you will be surprised and will LOVE the ending.  We'll leave you with a scene from early in the film:

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