Illegal (1955 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Lewis Allen|
|Produced by||Frank P. Rosenberg|
|Screenplay by||W.R. Burnett|
James R. Webb
|Story by||Frank J. Collins|
|Starring||Edward G. Robinson|
|Music by||Max Steiner|
|Cinematography||J. Peverell Marley|
|Edited by||Thomas Reilly|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
Victor Scott (Edward G. Robinson) is a district attorney with a spectacular courtroom style and a drive to win every case. He is assisted by attorney Ellen Miles (Nina Foch), who is not quite as relentless, but is devoted to her D.A. boss. They have had a long relationship: in the past, Scott was encouraged and mentored by Ellen's father and, when the older man was on his deathbed, Scott promised to protect Ellen. It is hinted that Ellen would have welcomed a romantic relationship, but instead Scott encourages her to marry a co-worker, Ray Borden (Hugh Marlowe).
Scott prosecutes a sensational murder case and wins the conviction, in spite of motive and evidence not being clear-cut. Edward Clary (DeForest Kelley) is sentenced to die in the electric chair and the success spurs Scott's interest in running for Governor. However, at the very hour of the execution, Scott discovers that a man whom police have shot during the commission of a crime has, in a dying declaration, confessed to the murder. Scott tries, but fails, to stop the execution.
This death of an innocent man greatly disturbs Scott; he resigns and falls into an alcoholic haze. While appearing in court on his own charge of being drunk and disorderly, he meets a man accused of a death in relation to a huge brawl and decides to defend him in court. He challenges a prosecution witness, who he says was knocked out during a brawl; when the man says a man of ordinary size could not knock him out, Scott sucker-punches him while holding a roll of coins that act like brass knuckles. The man falls unconscious, the case is dismissed, and Scott has a new career as a defense attorney.
Scott ends up defending an associate of the city's crime boss, Frank Garland (Albert Dekker), a man he refused to work for earlier because "no one would testify against you; you own the people who work for you". The man is accused of murder by poison; in the courtroom, Scott wins by drinking from the poison bottle and resting his case, knowing that the prosecution will request a recess and he can then hurry to a doctor before the poison takes effect. Though not in Garland's pocket, Scott establishes a careful relationship with the gangster, leading him into direct confrontation with the very office he used to head.
There is an ongoing leak between the D.A.'s office and the crime boss. The leak turns out to be Ellen's husband, Borden. Ellen discovers this, leading to a confrontation in which she kills him in self-defense. But the new D.A. (Edward Platt) gets it backward, believing that Ellen herself was the leak and that she murdered Borden when found out. She is prosecuted for murder and Scott defends her. During a lunch recess, as protection, he has his secretary take his confidential case notes and mail them to herself: if Scott is killed by Garland, they can be used to convict. He then meets Garland who, looking to avoid being implicated, asks Scott to throw the case. The crime boss does not believe Scott can both win the case and keep him out of it. Garland has Scott followed and shot; but, before he can finish the job, the hit man is himself killed by the D.A.'s agents.
Rather than seeking medical treatment, Scott returns to court and calls Angel O'Hara (Jayne Mansfield), who had recently been living with Garland. Her testimony confirms that Borden spoke to Garland regularly, and made the phone call that led to Ellen learning that he was the leak. Ellen is cleared, but Scott collapses from his injuries as the movie ends.
- Edward G. Robinson as Victor Scott
- Nina Foch as Ellen Miles
- Hugh Marlowe as Ray Borden
- Jayne Mansfield as Angel O'Hara (singing voice was dubbed by Bonnie Lou Williams)
- Albert Dekker as Frank Garland
- Howard St. John as E.A. Smith
- Ellen Corby as Miss Hinkel
- Edward Platt as Ralph Ford
- Jan Merlin as Andy Garth
- Robert Ellenstein as Joe Knight
- Jay Adler as Joseph Carter
- Henry Kulky as Taylor
- James McCallion as Allen Parker
- Addison Richards as Steve Harper
- Lawrence Dobkin as Al Carol
- DeForest Kelley as Edward Clary, the wrongly convicted man
The film was one of three movies set up by producer Frank Rosenberg at Warner Bros, the others being Miracle in the Rain and "US Marblehead". A theater marquee advertising Miracle in the Rain can be seen very briefly during a street sequence late in the film.
Robinson owned a considerable contemporary art collection that was used to decorate the set. The works included impressionist works by Gauguin, Degas, Duran, and Gladys Lloyd. Robinson was the subject of investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee and it was reportedly the reason why the film was of a lower budget and caliber than his previous films.
Film critic Bosley Crowther compared the film to The Asphalt Jungle but thought it was not as good. He wrote, "For one thing, the story of Illegal invades the higher echelons of crime, with a fast-thinking, double-dealing lawyer as the principal character ... The fact that this hard-bitten lawyer is played by Edward G. Robinson in his old vein of stinging sarcasm is a clue to what you may expect. But more than this and more than the climate of sordid deceit that is achieved is the fact that Illegal tries to blueprint The Asphalt Jungle's Marilyn Monroe. You may remember that Miss Monroe's first screen role was in the latter. She spoke not a word but she went right to work as an adornment in the apartment of the criminal counselor. Well, in Illegal Jayne Mansfield plays precisely the same sort of role in the apartment of Albert Dekker, the big poobah of crime. Miss Mansfield, we might add, is the beauty who is imitating Miss Monroe in a feeble imitation of Once In a Lifetime on the Broadway stage."