Where The Killer Announces His Crime
Lionel Barrymore Has Guilty Hands (1931)
Former D.A. and now defense lawyer Lionel Barrymore argues that some murders are justified and should be committed. Within a reel, he'll translate the theory to action. Thus was tale told in a hurry as 69 minutes ticked down. Barrymore brags of sending fifty men to electrocution for crimes they needn't have been caught for, and acquitting twice that number by brilliant circumvent of justice. Audiences had reason to figure he was right for screens glutted by shysters that never lost, except by their own hubris. Everyone loved a winner, however way he won, as Depression claws sunk deeper, and not for a moment do we want Barrymore brought to book for his killing done on behalf of dewy daughter Madge Evans. Only a most bizarre application of fate can square account here, as happened when others dynamic as Barrymore tried bending social order to personal ends. Here was how precode dealt men like LB, Warren William, Bill Powell, others who'd not be quelled by mortal means. We preferred them above mere law, and sometimes had joy of their evading it altogether (a happy solution not limited to men, as witness Kay Francis and Ruth Chatterton dealing death on screen and evading justice).
Lionel Barrymore was a character acting star for long as he could stand, or eventually, sit. Him being in credits was reason a lot of people went to MGM pictures through the 30's and 40's. His talking sensation in A Free Soul made it easier to bear the loss of Lon Chaney, who undoubtedly would have done a lot of the Barrymore sound parts had he lived. Many defined Great Performance as what Lionel gave in A Free Soul. His courtroom speech and collapse was excerpted by Metro in several "best moment" compiles they did over subsequent years. An Academy Award came of effort many (and eventually LB himself) would call ham, but folks then liked talent let loose, bravura not to be damped when a known dynamo like Barrymore swung his bat. Would we want him held back in the Gillespie pictures, or It's A Wonderful Life? Colleagues revered Lionel. I've read of Bogart deferring utterly to him for
Guilty Hands is a fun puzzle despite our full-knowing the doer. Barrymore tells the victim straight that he's going to die and nothing will stop it, a heck of a thrust to action that follows. From commit of the act, LB runs perverse investigation of the murder he's done, then dressed as a suicide. This, then, is no mystery in conventional sense. Director was W.S. Van Dyke, so things stride along (some trades at the time credited Barrymore with co-direction). Kay Francis is discard mistress of the departed who has Lionel's number and tries unmasking him, these two much enlivening a second half going head-to-head (Kay very much the old man's histrionic equal). LB even does a jury speech minus a courtroom, Francis sole target of his verbal wrath. If you need reason to watch Guilty Hands, here's highlight that will do. This was another of those elderly Metros that went years out of circulation until TCM unearthed it. Now there's Volume Ten of Forbidden Hollywood from Warner Archive that spotlights Guilty Hands with four other precodes. Like all DVD sets from this series, it's a pleasure and a must.