The recent well-remastered Warner Archive DVD release of the 1932 Kafkaesque crime melodrama "Night Court" once again shows that Archive rules regarding shining a spotlight on films that remain highly relevant more than 80 years after their premieres. The same is true regarding the Archive releases of the similar (reviewed) "The Star Witness" and the more campy but good (also reviewed) "Unashamed." These and numerous other Archive titles demonstrate that it is a crying shame that they don't male 'em like that anymore.
The prevalent social commentary in "Witness" and "Unashamed" is even more copious in "Court," which should not be confused with the "Must See" sitcom of the same name. This one based on a play co-written by syndicated columnist and film-producer Mark Hellinger has judicial corruption, a loose woman, and class warfare.
The pedigree of "Court" extends beyond Hellinger to include Oscar-nominated W.S. Van Dyke, whose 91 directing credits include the "Thin Man" films. The equally good cast includes Walter Huston as corrupt night-court judge Andrew J. Moffett and Lewis Stone as crusading member of the judiciary Judge William Osgood.
Our story begins with Moffett essentially having his pre-Code-enforcement kept floozy Lil Baker examining his briefs in his office before his version of a kangaroo court begins its session. A wonderful skeleton in the closet metaphor is a "Court" highlight.
These opening scenes establish both the blatant nature in which Moffett can be bought and the degree to which Osgood is targeting this man. Good humor from the swift administration of "justice" in the titular judicial venue stems from women being arrested for loitering on street corners. Poetic justice would result in fining them two bits.
Osgood closing in on Moffett prompts the latter to sentence Baker to hard-time in an apartment in a working-class neighborhood as part of a plan to hinder the investigation. Her role includes keeping a bank book for a secret account from falling into the right hands.
Both the melodrama and Kafkaesque portion of the film begin on Baker meeting her new neighbors. Mike Thomas is a blue-collar everyman who drives his hack all night while his loving wife Mary stays home with their bouncing baby boy.
Junior innocently taking a "smoking gun" from Lil and Mary inadvertently seeing that evidence puts a target on her back. Moffett initially sets her up for an unfair fall and seals the deal by having her appear in his courtroom. A proceeding that greatly exceeds the constitutional requirement for a speedy trial results in Mary becoming a guest of the state on the same day of her arrest. All of this occurs while Mike is driving his cab.
After approaching a grief-fueled approach to rock bottom, Mike learns the truth and begins to fight back. His lesson regarding the reach of the long arm of the law leads to him taking the law in his own hands.
This excessive trauma and drama culminates in the courtroom climax that particularly is a staple of Golden Age films. An unusual amount of dramatics result in proof that truth, justice, and the American way ultimately prevail. The reality helps explain why Hollywood is known as La La Land.