"It was legal and in my client's interest," says Edward G. Robinson. "What more can you ask for?"
Apr 5, 2011
Illegal from 1955 and starring Edward G. Robinson brings mixed feelings: Admiration for Robinson's skill and stature as an actor; affection for the man, who was a decent and admirable human being; and sadness bordering on disgust for the kind of movies, such as this one, Robinson made beginning in the early Fifties.
Robinson had been unofficially blacklisted during the Commie witch-hunts of the late Forties and Fifties. The studio heads wanted no trouble from Congressional investigations or write-ups in such virulent rags as Red Channels. Robinson's crime: It was whispered that he was too liberal. To make a living and to continue acting, Robinson had to take on such things as Vice Squad (1953), Black Tuesday (1954), Tight Spot, A Bullet for Joey and Illegal (all 1955). It wasn't until Frank Sinatra insisted Robinson be cast in A Hole in the Head in 1959, when Robinson was 66, that studio heads decided that he was safe enough to be used in A-level movies.
Ambitious, competitive D.A. Victor Scott (Robinson) sends an innocent man to the chair. It was a mistake, but that doesn't help the man who was executed. Now the man the newspapers called the Napoleon of the Courtroom not only has his career destroyed but his belief in himself as a prosecutor. He quits as D.A. From now on Scott will fight for the defense. Well, you know how it goes. Before long Scott is defending crooks and killers. He's aggressive in the court, using every trick, emotion and manipulation to win. It's not long before he finds himself ensnarled in the affairs of the powerful Frank Garland, a kingpin of oil wells, breweries, trucking, hotels, investment companies and vice. Garland is a man who buries his mistakes. Sooner or later Victor Scott, manipulator extraordinaire of juries, is going to come face to face with his conscience, especially when Ellen Miles (Nina Foch), a woman he realizes he may love, is charged with murder and Garland is involved. Scott will have some decisions to make.
Illegal isn't an A-movie. It's a melodramatic low B-movie. While the melodrama piles up, Victor Scott stays tough and smart. Robinson makes him effortlessly believable. Robinson, a noted art collector, loaned two paintings from his collection for a scene in the movie he shares with Albert Dekker as Garland. It's an amusing moment watching Robinson as Scott comment on Garland's collection of Impressionist masterpieces that were owned by Robinson. "Degas!...and isn't that a Gauguin?...I've always had to content myself with reproductions." Robinson plays it absolutely straight.
Jayne Mansfield shows up in her first movie as a singer in a nightclub who earns Garland's pay in more ways than one. What she does to "Too Marvelous for Words" should have stopped her career in its tracks.