As a prosecuting attorney, it’s Vincent Day’s (Warren William) job to see that guilty parties get the punishments they deserve. But when Vincent mistakenly sends an innocent man to the electric chair, the guilt is too much for him to bear and he vows to never prosecute again and becomes a defense attorney instead. He starts out defending the innocent and the satisfaction of helping them out is good and all, but then he discovers the real money is in defending the guilty.
Once Vincent starts working with the seedier crowd, business is booming. He even has to hire Celia (Sidney Fox) as a second secretary to help out Miss Hickey (Aline MacMahon), his main secretary. Celia is young, beautiful, and very naive. Vincent is very attracted to her, but she only has eyes for her fiance Johnny (William Janney). However, she admires the work Vincent does, thinking he’s honestly protecting innocent people. One day in court, she watches in awe as he drinks a bottle of poison from the evidence to prove that it’s harmless. Little does she know that afterward, Vincent went straight from the courthouse to a two-bit doctor to have his stomach pumped.
Later that night, Vincent has Celia come to his apartment under the guise of needing some work done, but he comes on to her instead and she turns him down. Worst of all, she finds out the truth about what happened in court that day. Completely disillusioned, she gives her two weeks notice, but refuses to be paid for it. She doesn’t want to take any money gotten through such dirty ways. Vincent has no problem meeting women, but Celia’s rejection really stings him badly. On Celia’s last day, Vincent gives her a check for a hundred dollars and proves that he earned it through legitimate means.
Celia and Johnny are planning to get married right away, but then Johnny is framed for stealing some bonds and gets arrested. Of course, Celia knows Vincent is the only one who can help him, but when she tries to find him, he’s gone off on a very long bender. Miss Hickey sobers him up and he gets to work clearing Johnny’s name and getting the person who was really responsible for stealing the bonds arrested. This move costs him the trust of the criminal underworld, but that doesn’t bother Vincent at all since he’s decided to go straight again. As he leaves to see Cecile get married, he’s gunned down outside his office.
I have been very excited to see The Mouthpiece for a long time now, since I’d heard Cliff from Immortal Ephemera speak very highly of it. I was not disappointed at all, it’s now my favorite Warren William movie. This is exactly the kind of character Warren William is best known for playing and he plays Vincent to the hilt. The Mouthpiece also has a phenomenal supporting cast. Aileen MacMahon was a flawless choice to play Vincent’s loyal secretary and Sidney Fox sure had that wide-eyed and innocent act down pat.
The Mouthpiece also has a nice, fast pace and great dialogue, so it’s rather surprising that it’s not a more well-known movie. I don’t see it on TCM very often, nor has it even been released by Warner Archive. Let’s hope that changes, because The Mouthpiece deserves to be rediscovered. Any fan of pre-codes would go crazy for it.