Reviews & Columns
Reviews
DVD
TV on DVD
Blu-ray
4K UHD
International DVDs
In Theaters
Reviews by Studio
Video Games

Features
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
Interviews
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Columns
Anime Talk
DVD Savant
Horror DVDs
The M.O.D. Squad
Art House
HD Talk
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum

Resources
DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info
Links

Columns




Public Defender (1931), The

Warner Archive // Unrated // March 25, 2014
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Justin Remer | posted December 30, 2014 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

An innocent man is framed for the misdeeds of his colleagues and only a playboy vigilante has the gumption to save him in 1931's The Public Defender, based on the novel The Splendid Crime by British author George Goodchild. To modern eyes, Goodchild's premise seems like a dry run for the Batman franchise, with hero Pike Winslow a proto-Bruce Wayne, intentionally playing up his vapid socialite image in public, while using his cunning to enact justice in the shadow of night. With Cimarron's Richard Dix appearing as Winslow, one could easily have seen this turning into a fun franchise as well. Dix is a perfect fit for the role too: he's square enough to play both the doltish rich kid and the heroic crimefighter with equal believability. (It doesn't hurt either that, in profile, Dix looks like a Dick Tracy comic strip come to life.)

Vigilante heroes apparently hadn't thought up the idea of face masks or costumes in 1931, so Winslow must depend on his natural speed and stealth not to get caught. Winslow does have a catchy name, however: "The Reckoner," which he has scrawled on little calling cards (next to a drawing of the Scales of Justice, naturally) that he drops at the scenes of his crimes. The Reckoner also has two handy assistants: a sweet but simple brawler named Doc (Paul Hurst) and The Reckoner's own answer to Alfred the butler, the erudite Professor (Boris Karloff, whose iconic turn in Frankenstein would be released three short months after this film). Together, this dynamic trio (mmm... doesn't quite have the same ring) work their way through a series of crooked bankers, robbing them of their stashed papers, looking to compile evidence to clear the name of Eugene Gerry (Emmett King), who was set up as the fall guy for a massive embezzlement that leaves him facing a potential stretch of twenty years in prison.

Unlike Bruce Wayne, Winslow does not have a tortured past that inspires him to right wrongs. Instead, he is motivated by love: he wants to marry Eugene Gerry's daughter, Barbara (Shirley Grey). As is so often the case, their courtship is not completely smooth. Even though Winslow is considerate enough to rescue the Gerry family's heirlooms from auction, Barbara feels like Winslow treats her too much like a child. One amusing scene has Winslow turning to the Professor and Doc for love advice; it concludes with Winslow and the Professor trading lines of poetry while Doc chows on a big hunk of cheese.

First-time director J. Walter Ruben pulls off a handful of thrilling setpieces where The Reckoner and his partners sneak into heavily guarded mansions to get the documents they need. He also manages to keep the talky scenes moving at a good clip, despite some stilted performances throughout the ensemble. Dix -- who frequently gets knocked for his dated performance style in Cimarron -- acquits himself quite well here. He seems fairly laid back and even manages to score some unexpected laughs from a few intentionally awkward exchanges.

The Public Defender is a pulpy charmer that's worth checking out for fans of classic detective stories and early superhero comics.

The DVD
The Public Defender is available through the Warner Archive Collection of manufactured-on-demand DVD-Rs.

The Video:
The bad news is that the film materials used for the standard 1.33:1 transfer are heavy with dirt and white specks, with some scratches and even some splices to boot. The good news is that overall the picture is stable, with nuanced contrast and inky blacks. Detail level fluctuates, but is fairly good overall. I also spotted no digital artifacts or other major compression issues.

The Audio:
Like the video, the Dolby 2.0 mono audio definitely shows its age. The sound is boxy overall, with noticeable hiss and some occasional pops. That said, I never had difficulty understanding any of the dialogue.

Special Features:
None.

Final Thoughts:
He doesn't have the gadgets of Batman, the supernatural powers of the Shadow, the law enforcement training of The Spirit, or the elaborate mythos of The Phantom, and yet The Reckoner's minor adventure presented here will probably hit the spot for fans of those classic characters. Recommended.

Justin Remer is a frequent wearer of beards. He directed a folk-rock documentary called Making Lovers & Dollars, which is now streaming. He also can found be found online reading short stories and rambling about pop music.

Buy from Amazon.com

C O N T E N T

V I D E O

A U D I O

E X T R A S

R E P L A Y

A D V I C E
Recommended

E - M A I L
this review to a friend
Popular Reviews
1. National Lampoon Movie Madness aka National Lampoon Goes to the Movies
2. Onibaba The Criterion Collection


Sponsored Links
Sponsored Links