Portia on Trial (1937)

72 mins | Drama | 8 November 1937

Writer:

Samuel Ornitz

Cinematographer:

Harry Wild

Editor:

Howard O'Neill

Production Designer:

John Victor Mackay

Production Company:

Republic Pictures Corp.
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HISTORY

The opening credits introduce this film as " Faith Baldwin's Portia on Trial ." HR news items provide the following information: Gordon Rigby and Cromwell Ormsby wrote an adaptation of Baldwin's story, but the extent of their contribution to the finished film has not been determined; Helen Gahagan was set to star in the picture, but was replaced by Frieda Inescourt; and Walter Abel and Barbara Pepper were borrowed from RKO for the production. The Var review listed the picture's running time as 85 minutes, probably in error. The Var review also noted that "comparison of Walter Abel's work as district attorney in the big court scene with another one in [the 1936 M-G-M film] Fury is inevitable" (see above).
       According to the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, after Republic submitted an early synopsis of Baldwin's story to the PCA on 31 Mar 1936, PCA Director Joseph Breen noted that the synopsis would result in a film that the PCA would have to reject for the following reasons: the heroine was "presented in such a way as to make her unethical acts appear attractive"; adultery was condoned by some of the characters; and it was "indicated that in one case that Portia made an impassioned argument to the jury blaming society as a whole for the unlawful acts of her client, which is definitely contrary to the tenets of the Production Code." Breen again rejected a later version of the script, saying that it was unacceptable because of "an excessive and unnecessary amount of illicit sex" and "the condonation and flavor of justification of illicit sex." ... More Less

The opening credits introduce this film as " Faith Baldwin's Portia on Trial ." HR news items provide the following information: Gordon Rigby and Cromwell Ormsby wrote an adaptation of Baldwin's story, but the extent of their contribution to the finished film has not been determined; Helen Gahagan was set to star in the picture, but was replaced by Frieda Inescourt; and Walter Abel and Barbara Pepper were borrowed from RKO for the production. The Var review listed the picture's running time as 85 minutes, probably in error. The Var review also noted that "comparison of Walter Abel's work as district attorney in the big court scene with another one in [the 1936 M-G-M film] Fury is inevitable" (see above).
       According to the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, after Republic submitted an early synopsis of Baldwin's story to the PCA on 31 Mar 1936, PCA Director Joseph Breen noted that the synopsis would result in a film that the PCA would have to reject for the following reasons: the heroine was "presented in such a way as to make her unethical acts appear attractive"; adultery was condoned by some of the characters; and it was "indicated that in one case that Portia made an impassioned argument to the jury blaming society as a whole for the unlawful acts of her client, which is definitely contrary to the tenets of the Production Code." Breen again rejected a later version of the script, saying that it was unacceptable because of "an excessive and unnecessary amount of illicit sex" and "the condonation and flavor of justification of illicit sex." Because of this rejection, the script was rewritten. After the film was released, the PCA received a complaint from the Los Angeles Bar Association, but the substance of the complaint is not known. The film was rejected for distribution in Quebec because "undue sympathy [is] created for a murderess." Alberto Colombo was nominated for an Academy Award in the Music (Scoring) category. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
28 Oct 37
p. 3.
Film Daily
5 Nov 37
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 37
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jun 37
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jun 37
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jul 37
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Aug 37
p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Aug 37
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Sep 37
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Oct 37
p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily
29 Oct 37
p. 16.
Motion Picture Herald
25 Sep 37
p. 35.
Motion Picture Herald
6 Nov 37
p. 36.
New York Times
3 Dec 37
p. 29.
Variety
10 Nov 37
p. 19.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Faith Baldwin's Portia on Trial
Release Date:
8 November 1937
Production Date:
6 August--31 August 1937
Copyright Claimant:
Republic Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
8 November 1937
Copyright Number:
LP7599
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Victor "High Fidelity" Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
72
Length(in feet):
6,697
Length(in reels):
8
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
3701
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

Criminal defense attorney Portia Merriman specializes in defending downtrodden women with tactics that often annoy her sometime boyfriend, district attorney Dan Foster. One afternoon, Portia is excited to learn of the arrival of Earle and Richard Condon, the son and grandson of newspaper magnate John Condon, who have been living in England for the past seventeen years. Portia assigns her investigators, Efe and Hank, to keep a close eye on Richard, in whom she takes a particular interest. Later that night, Dan insists on taking Portia with him to a party given by John to celebrate Dan's successful prosecution, thanks to Portia's assistance, of a notorious gang. Portia refuses, however, since John's hatred of her is well-known. Soon after, Portia learns that Richard is ill, and she rushes to the Condon home in a panic. There, it is revealed that Portia is Richard's mother, although he is not aware of this fact. The doctor assures Portia that Richard will recover fully from his fever, and she is allowed a brief glimpse of her beloved son. At a party soon after, Portia tries to break off her relationship with Dan, saying that he cannot afford to be seen with her because he is running for re-election. Also at the party, Earle introduces Portia to Richard and Elizabeth Manners, Earle's English fiancée. Richard is impressed with Portia's wit and beauty, and is delighted when Earle later informs him that Portia is his mother. Portia and Richard soon become friends, much to the chagrin of John, who disapproved of her when she was involved with Earle and forced her to give ... +


Criminal defense attorney Portia Merriman specializes in defending downtrodden women with tactics that often annoy her sometime boyfriend, district attorney Dan Foster. One afternoon, Portia is excited to learn of the arrival of Earle and Richard Condon, the son and grandson of newspaper magnate John Condon, who have been living in England for the past seventeen years. Portia assigns her investigators, Efe and Hank, to keep a close eye on Richard, in whom she takes a particular interest. Later that night, Dan insists on taking Portia with him to a party given by John to celebrate Dan's successful prosecution, thanks to Portia's assistance, of a notorious gang. Portia refuses, however, since John's hatred of her is well-known. Soon after, Portia learns that Richard is ill, and she rushes to the Condon home in a panic. There, it is revealed that Portia is Richard's mother, although he is not aware of this fact. The doctor assures Portia that Richard will recover fully from his fever, and she is allowed a brief glimpse of her beloved son. At a party soon after, Portia tries to break off her relationship with Dan, saying that he cannot afford to be seen with her because he is running for re-election. Also at the party, Earle introduces Portia to Richard and Elizabeth Manners, Earle's English fiancée. Richard is impressed with Portia's wit and beauty, and is delighted when Earle later informs him that Portia is his mother. Portia and Richard soon become friends, much to the chagrin of John, who disapproved of her when she was involved with Earle and forced her to give up all claim to her baby after arranging an annulment of her marriage with Earle. John continues his meddling ways by trying to have Elizabeth deported on moral charges, and a distraught Earle rushes to her apartment. Elizabeth is convinced that the deportation is Earle's doing, and in a hysterical rage, she kills him. Jane Wilkins, Portia's secretary and best friend, convinces her to defend Elizabeth. John tries to get Portia disbarred by presenting the damaging affidavits he forced her to sign seventeen years ago to prevent her from claiming Richard, but Portia outwits him with a legal maneuver and the trial begins. Portia presents a defense of justifiable homicide, showing that Elizabeth was driven to the brink of insanity by John's actions. Portia also reveals that John similarly manipulated her relationship with Earle and that she was nearly driven to murder herself. During Portia's examination of John, he admits that the affidavits are false and takes full responsibility for Earle's death. Dan, who is prosecuting the case, polls the jury, and after they state that Elizabeth is not guilty, Portia and Richard embrace. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.