The People Against O'Hara

The People Against O'Hara is a 1951 film noir directed by John Sturges and based on Eleazar Lipsky's novel. The film features Spencer Tracy, Pat O'Brien, and James Arness.[3]

The People Against O'Hara
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Sturges
Produced byWilliam H. Wright
Screenplay byJohn Monks Jr.
Based onthe novel The People Against O'Hara
by Eleazar Lipsky
Music byCarmen Dragon
CinematographyJohn Alton
Edited byGene Ruggiero
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • September 1, 1951 (1951-09-01) (United States)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1 million[1][2]
Box office$1.7 million[1]


James Curtayne (Tracy) has retired from criminal law, but when Johnny O'Hara (Arness), a boy from the neighborhood, is accused of a murder, Curtayne takes the case. The boy's parents plead for Curtayne's help, even though they are too poor to pay him a fee.

A man Johnny knew was shot and killed during the night by two people in a passing car. The only witness, from a distance, was a man coming out of a diner. Johnny flees when the cops come to question him. Once the boy is in custody, Detective Ricks (O'Brien) and District Attorney Barra (John Hodiak) explain that a gun owned by Johnny appears to be the murder weapon. A young punk, Pete Korvac (William Campbell), is claiming that he was Johnny's accomplice in the crime and is willing to testify that Johnny pulled the trigger.

Johnny insists he was working all night, but no one can verify that. What he refuses to tell the authorities, or even his own lawyer, is that he was with Katrina Lanzetta (Yvette Duguay), the young wife of a local gangster known as Knuckles (Eduardo Ciannelli). She has fallen in love with Johnny, but he is determined to protect her honor and her safety.

Curtayne's daughter Ginny (Diana Lynn) didn't want her widower dad to take on such a stressful case because he is a recovering alcoholic. Ginny lives with him, putting her own future with boyfriend Jeff (Richard Anderson) on hold. Curtayne expresses confidence he can handle the strain. He goes to see the Korvac family, trying to learn why young Pete, who has a criminal past, would double-cross Johnny this way. He also visits Knuckles, who knew the victim and is volunteering to help Curtayne, but the lawyer neither trusts nor believes Knuckles and declines his offer.

The case begins to go badly for the defense. Johnny's alibi about being at work proves to be a lie. Pete's chatty testimony is convincing and Curtayne has been unable to rattle him. Curtayne confides in Ricks, his friend, that he is becoming forgetful at inopportune times in court. Desperate, knowing that Johnny's life is on the line, Curtayne not only resumes drinking, he bribes the eyewitness with $500 after learning the man, Sven Norson (Jay C. Flippen), is willing to change his story for a price.

D.A. Barra discovers the bribe. He wins the case, convicting Johnny of murder, then must decide what to do about Curtayne's behavior, possibly seeking to have him disbarred. Curtayne, however, is tipped off by Ricks about the boy's relationship with gangster Knuckles' wife, who is willing to come forward and accept the consequences now that Johnny's been found guilty.

Curtayne tries to set up Knuckles, certain that he is the one behind the murder. He wears a wire for the police, looking for a confession. Instead, it turns out one of Pete Korvac's brothers is the man who did the fatal shooting, and Curtayne ends up at gunpoint. By the time Ricks, Barra and others tailing him can get there to make an arrest, Curtayne ends up fatally shot.



According to MGM records the film earned $1,107,000 in the US and Canada and $588,000 elsewhere, resulting in a $22,000 profit.[1]

Critical response

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film "a curiously old-fashioned courtroom drama" that "moved ploddingly".[4] A Variety reviewer wrote, "A basically good idea for a film melodrama [from a novel by Eleazar Lipsky] is cluttered up with too many unnecessary side twists and turns, and the presentation is uncomfortably overlong."[5]

Radio adaptation

The People Against O'Hara was presented on Lux Radio Theatre March 9, 1953. The one-hour adaptation starred Walter Pidgeon.[6]


  1. The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. Glenn Lovell, Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008, p. 69.
  3. The People Against O'Hara at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  4. Crowther, Bosley (September 6, 1951). "THE PEOPLE AGAINST O'HARA". The New York Times. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  5. "Review: 'The People Against O'Hara'". Variety. 1951. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  6. Kirby, Walter (March 8, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved June 23, 2015 via
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