Friday, April 10, 2015

Outcast (1937)

Director: Robert Florey                              Writers: Doris Malloy & Dore Schary
Film Score: Ernst Toch                              Cinematography: Rudolph Maté
Starring: Warren William, Karen Morley, Lewis Stone and John Wray

This potboiler from independent Major Pictures was one of several released through Paramount in the mid-thirties. Warren William, who had been a huge star during the pre-code era, was still a major star but that star was on the wane and this was his first appearance in an independent film. While past his prime, he still manages to look dignified among a decidedly second-rate cast and puts in a solid performance as a wrongly-accused man. Outcast was the fourth film starring William that was helmed by Robert Florey, a confident director with an interesting visual style who worked in a number of genres during the golden age and had a lengthy career in television afterward. Most notable for being the man who almost directed Frankenstein, his most well-known film is probably the quirky but effective Murders in the Rue Morgue for Universal, Bela Lugosi’s follow up of Dracula the year before. The screenplay, co-written by future MGM head Dore Schary, was based on the novel Happiness Preferred by Frank R. Adams, but fails to rise above its low-budget beginnings. And aside from an opening and closing theme by Ernst Toch, there is very little film score to speak of.

The film begins as a tale of revenge. Warren William, on trial for murder, is acquitted because the jury decided that the poisoning was an accidental overdose of medication that William had prescribed, not premeditated poisoning by the accused. But the wealthy Murray Kinnell, the husband who had his wife stolen away from him by William before her death, has decided to make it his life’s work to punish William by destroying his life and making him an outcast. He begins by having him blackballed in every hospital in the country and in desperation William pawns his medical bag and heads West until the money runs out. In a small town called Orchard Fork, he meets retired lawyer Lewis Stone who guesses he’s a doctor when he splints Christian Rubb’s broken arm. He recognizes William’s name from the papers, and since the town has no doctor he decides to take a chance on him and hires him to stay and practice medicine. But when Kinnell becomes gravely ill and can’t be disturbed, his sister Karen Morley decides to take up his cause and heads to Orchard Fork in order to expose to the town who William is and what he was accused of.

The film is based on an interesting enough idea, but the execution is poor. The script has absolutely no suspense, and doesn’t really have a conflict of any kind. While Karen Morley comes to town hopping mad, it’s just as clear that after she gets to know the good doctor that all her animosity will melt away and she’ll just as easily melt into his arms. Meanwhile the supporting cast is a little to overly cute and predictable themselves, the movie version of a Norman Rockwell painting but far more pedestrian than the cast of Our Town would be a few years later. Esther Dale is so over the top in her meanness toward everybody that she almost gets what she deserves when tragedy ensues toward the end of the film. Lewis Stone is solid as ever but, like everyone in the cast, is hampered by the weak script. Karen Morley does well in her scenes, but this is obviously a B production. Still, the ending is interesting, if derivative of any number of similar films, most notably Fritz Lang’s Fury from the previous year. Outcast is certainly recommended for fans of Warren William, if you can find it, but will no doubt fail to engage most classic movie lovers.

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