On New York’s Lower East Side, Tony Adam (William Powell) has built up a reputation as one of the best lawyers in town. Even kids on the street admire him and want to grow up to be just like him! One day, he gets a visit from Granville Bentley (Alan Dineheart), an attorney working in Uptown Manhattan, who invites Tony to join his firm. He talks it over with his faithful secretary Olga (Joan Blondell), who believes he could be a big success if he moved uptown. She has just one piece of advice for him: stay away from women. But does he listen? Of course not. Tony makes the move, bringing Olga with him, and at first, he’s determined to stay on the straight and narrow.
When notorious racketeer Gilmurry (David Landau) finds out what a good lawyer Tony is, he tries to get Tony to come work for him. Tony declines the offer, but then he meets the conniving showgirl Virginia St. Johns (Claire Dodd). Virginia wants Tony’s help suing Dr. Gresham (Kenneth Thompson), her fiance, for breach of promise. She also seduces Tony to convince him to help her. Tony is no match for her charms and pulls out all the ethical stops to build her case up. He doesn’t realize that she’s actually working with Dr. Gresham to catch him acting unethically so they can take him for everything he’s worth. When they get through with him, he’s lost everything he’s worked for. Tony defends himself at his trial and even though he isn’t convicted, he isn’t acquitted either. Bentley fires him from the law firm and nobody wants him to represent them.
The only cases he can get are the shadier cases that nobody else will touch. He realizes the only way for him to succeed is to play dirty, so he takes on those cases, but not without asking a hefty fee for his services. When he hears about an opportunity to handle a case against Gilmurry, he jumps at the chance. Even though the jury finds Gilmurry not guilty, Tony manages to get a big settlement out of Gilmurry before the jury reaches their decision. Again, Gilmurry tries to get Tony to join his organization, but Tony is willing to let Gilmurry use his influence to get him a spot as Assistant District Attorney. As Assistant DA, Tony sets his sights on getting even with Dr. Gresham. He’d gotten all the dirt on Gresham’s fraudulent practices while working with Virginia and uses it to get him put behind bars. Gilmurry isn’t to pleased about this since Gresham is part of his racket, but once again, Tony is able to turn the tables on Gilmurry and next thing he knows, Gilmurry is offering to get him in as a judge. But Tony isn’t interested in being a judge. He wants to go back to the Lower East Side, where he belongs, and work as an honest lawyer.
What piqued my interest in Lawyer Man is the fact that it’s William Powell in a more dramatic role. I mostly know William Powell from comedies, so I was interested in seeing something a little different from him. I like him better in comedies, but he did not disappoint here. Joan Blondell did just fine and dandy here, even though she could have stood a little more screen time. Surprisingly, this was the only movie William Powell and Joan Blondell ever made together. I would have liked to see them teamed up again in something like a pre-code comedy, that could have been a lot of fun. But at least we have Lawyer Man, which I really enjoyed. Good story that fits a lot into just over an hour.