Penthouse (1933)

W.S. VAN DYKE

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

USA, 1933. . Screenplay by , , based on the story by first published in Cosmopolitan Magazine. Cinematography by , . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

plays a lawyer whose devotion to the blindness of justice has him agreeing to defend gangsters and racketeers in court, but his firm doesn’t appreciate the bad reputation it brings them and fires him. He heads out to Long Island to visit his fiancée , and she breaks up with him when he refuses to accede to her wish that he never represent underworld figures in court again.

Sleeper eventually comes to him begging for help when the handsome hunk she has decided to marry in Baxter’s place () is accused of murdering the floozy () that he was trying to break up with in order to go legit with his fiancee. Baxter agrees to help out but immediately learns it will not be easy, receiving threats from anonymous sources telling him to stop looking into the case while dealing with the fact that the evidence against Holmes is pretty airtight; thankfully, the friends he has made in defending the mob are also on hand to help.

In walks charming call girl , a friend of the deceased whose apartment overlooked the balcony upon which the murder took place, who holes up with Baxter and gives him clues that help lead him to the truth; she also looks smashing in a nightgown so she clues him into some feelings for her as well.

This diverting pre-code thriller uses stylish visuals to offset the frank (for the time) discussions of pre-marital relations and doesn’t hide either the snobbery of the classy dames or the mercenary adventures of the lowly broads, while indulging in some pretty nasty moments of violence as well (including a body that drips with blood, not a common sight in the years to come).

The mess of clues and tips that Baxter deciphers in the last third get both confusing and dull, but the verve of the film’s pace and the terrific chemistry between all the actors well make up for it.

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