Johnny Smith is a Spring Valley basketball player who is celebrating his latest win at Club Inferno in Temple City. A few hours later, he is shot dead outside of the club. Luckily for club owner T. Amato (Alexander Granach), his pal Tom Cameron (Edward Ellis), a political boss in the city, pulls some strings and has Johnny’s death officially declared a suicide to avoid scandal.
The plan works for the most part, but not everyone buys the suicide story. Lynn Hollister (John Wayne), a lawyer from Spring Valley who knew Johnny quite well, decides to investigate his friend’s death. He immediately sees flaw in the coroner’s suicide verdict and wants to know the truth.
Lynn asks around, and very few people are willing to help him, but he does get a tip that he should contact Cameron. Heading to the Cameron estate, he meets Cameron’s daughter Sabra (Frances Dee), and they spend a night on the town together. Can he trust her, or is she working with her father to throw him off of the truth trail?
A Man Betrayed was directed by John H. Auer. The screenplay was written by Isabel Dawn from an original story by Jack Moffit.
Corrupt politicians. Newsmen in the pockets of corrupt politicians, covering up contract scandals and murders to let crime run rampant in the city. It’s seedy business, and John Wayne, of course, is the beacon of truth and morals — an honest lawyer intent on getting to the bottom of his hometown pal’s death mystery.
Wayne’s character, in addition to embodying all that is good and true, brings to the film a glamorization of the small town. He speaks glowingly of the tiny community in which he grew up, Spring Valley. The big city is full of deplorable behavior, where Spring Valley is an idealistic and squeaky-clean community, free of crime or corruption.
A Man Betrayed is a mystery at its heart, but it also has several comedic moments. The club that serves as a setting for part of the film brings a laugh just from its existence. “Club Inferno: Abandon Hope, All Who Enter!” It’s a hell-themed night club complete with a doorman, an slide for an entryway (on which you slide down to hell), and waiters decked out in devil costumes. Lynn Hollister has a little fun when he first visits the club, gliding face-first down that hell slide.
In addition to the edge of comedy there’s a little romance mixed in, between Wayne’s character of Lynn and Frances Dee’s character of Sabra. Their chemistry is quite nice.
Speaking of Cameron’s daughter, the dynamic between Sabra and her father is fascinating. She seems to know that he’s not exactly on the up-and-up, and in some ways even helps him carry out his corrupt schemes (i.e. distracting Lynn when he first shows up to dig for dirt on Cameron). At the same time, she tries desperately to separate his “Boss Cameron” persona from his “father” persona — not in a delusional way, but because she wants to believe he’s better than the crimes he commits.
A Man Betrayed is a well-acted film with a lot of interesting dynamics and varied moods at play. It’s a moralistic little slice of mystery, but also a very enjoyable one. The score: 4/5