Walter Pidgeon

The Unknown Man (1951)

The Unknown Man 1951Brad Masen (Walter Pidgeon) really has it all. He’s a highly respected attorney, known for his dedication to upholding the law. He has a lovely wife Stella (Ann Harding) and his son Bob (Richard Andersen) is about to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer, too. But it all starts to fall apart when Brad’s friend approaches him about defending Rudi Wallcheck (Keefe Brasselle), who is facing a murder charge. Since Brad doesn’t handle criminal cases, he initially turns the case down. But after thinking it over and meeting with Rudi, he changes his mind since he believes Rudy is sincerely innocent and wants to help him.

Despite his lack of experience with cases like this, Brad successfully convinces the jury that Rudi is not guilty. But it isn’t long before Brad realizes that Rudi is nothing more than a good actor. In reality, he was a known thug who was indeed guilty. Horrified at his failure to uphold the law, Brad immediately starts doing everything he can to right his wrong. He does some investigating and finds out Rudi has been involved in a crime syndicate that shakes down local business owners for “protection money.” Even worse, it turns out the syndicate is run by Brad’s friend Andrew (Eduard Franz). When Andrew realizes that Brad knows what he’s doing, he starts cautioning Brad about what getting tangled up with him could mean. In a rage, Brad stabs Andrew to death using a knife he had taken from Rudi’s apartment.

Since the police find Rudi’s fingerprints all over the gun, he immediately becomes the top suspect. But even in a situation like this, Brad is still deeply committed to the law and doesn’t want Rudi to be convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Brad represents Rudi in court once again, but can he save Rudi?

If I were to sum up The Unknown Man with one word, I would pick “adequate.” It’s likable enough, but not a movie to go out of your way for. It’s worth seeing if you’re a big Walter Pidgeon fan as he’s quite good in it. But the rest of the cast doesn’t rise above being simply sufficient (Ann Harding’s role is fairly small). The story had potential, but other pieces of the puzzle aren’t strong enough for the movie to become as good as it could have been. There are certainly worse ways you could spend an hour and a half and it’s the sort of thing I might watch again if there isn’t anything else on, but it’s just an average movie.

Listen, Darling (1938)

After the death of her husband, Dottie Wingate (Mary Astor) is unable to support her children, Pinkie (Judy Garland) and Billie (Scotty Beckett), and is on the verge of marrying banker Arthur Drubbs (Gene Lockhart).  She doesn’t love him and Pinkie and Billie don’t like him at all, but she needs the financial security.  Desperate to stop her mother from making such a big mistake, Pinkie and her boyfriend Buzz (Freddie Bartholomew) come up with a plan to “kidnap” Dottie and Billie in the family camper and take her for a little vacation, hoping the vacation will help her forget about Arthur.

Naturally, Dottie is surprised by this plan, but after a little while, she relaxes and begins to enjoy herself.  However, she still plans to marry Arthur when they get back home.  Buzz and Pinkie want to prove to Dottie that she can do better so they set out to find a more suitable match for her.  As luck would have it, they end up camping near Richard Thurlow (Walter Pidgeon), who just happens to have a lot in common with Dottie’s late husband.  Buzz thinks he’d be perfect for Dottie, and when Richard suddenly leaves the campground, he gets everyone together to follow him.

They manage to find Richard again, but Richard is very annoyed by the kids when Billie gets Richard’s camera (and himself) sprayed by a skunk.  Despite that incident, Richard and Dottie start to fall in love with each other.  The kids don’t know that, though, and think Richard hates them so they keep looking for another man.  They end up meeting J.J. Slattery (Alan Hale), who adores the kids and could very easily support them and Dottie.  But as much as Dottie likes Richard, she can’t share Richard’s love for living on the road because she needs to be settled in one place for the children.  Pinkie overhears her saying this and asks Slattery to adopt her and Billie so Dottie won’t be tied down and can be with Richard.  Of course, Slattery knows he can’t take Dottie’s children, but he sees to it that Dottie and Richard get back together.

Listen, Darling is a nice bit of fluffy entertainment, but nothing great.  By far, the most memorable thing about it is Judy Garland singing “Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart.”  Despite the first-rate cast, the movie is cute at best.  Judy Garland, Freddie Bartholomew, Mary Astor, and Walter Pidgeon have all starred in far more memorable movies.  But it is a pretty good example of the wholesome, family friendly movies that Louis B. Mayer was famous for making.