William Foster (William Powell) is a successful defense attorney. He’s in love with actress Irene Meyers (Kay Francis) but won’t marry her, because he doesn’t want to marry at all. In order to provoke jealousy from Foster, Irene begins spending time with Defoe (Scott Kolk), a society man.
While driving with Defoe one night, she hits and kills a pedestrian. Defoe takes the blame to save Irene, and Foster agrees to defend him. But can Irene let Defoe take the fall? And if she ‘fesses up, what will the fallout be?
John Cromwell directs 1930’s For the Defense. This is the third of six films made by the William Powell and Kay Francis screen team.
In some ways, For the Defense is an impressive film. The use of sound is great, given that it was produced quite early on in the sound era. The performances are solid, with Kay Francis and William Powell delivering solid portrayals of the lawyer and his complicated lady.
Francis’ character is interesting — she could have easily been written as a scheming, easy-to-hate, remorseless lady, but she’s got more dimension than that, which I appreciate.
That being said, for its few laudable attributes, For the Defense is just not an enjoyable watch (aside from its final fifteen minutes). It’s a lackluster and predictable courtroom drama that moves along at the pace of a snail.
It was a bad choice to open the film with a dry courtroom scene establishing Foster’s career and reputation. I’m not a screenwriter, but had I written this film, I would have spent the early stages of the short run-time developing the William Foster/Irene relationship more, making mention of Foster’s job but not focusing on it.
The twist and central conflict pop up pretty late — about thirty minutes in, when the film’s total run-time is only 64 minutes. This leaves little time for the aftermath of the accident to be explored with any substantial depth.
Kay Francis and William Powell deserved better material than this! As much as I wanted to at least like the film for them, I can’t recommend it. The score: 1.5/5