The recent pristinely remastered Warner Archive DVD release of the 1932 crime melodrama "Unashamed" allows folks who think that Golden Age films lack any real salacious edge to see how terribly wrong they are regarding that belief. This pre-Code shouldabeen a classic has plenty of illicit sex, bloodshed, and reprehensible behavior to satisfy the most prurient interest.
The slightly bigger picture this time is that this release roughly coincides with Archive bringing the similar (reviewed) 1931 William Wellman crime melodrama "The Star Witness" out on March 12, 2019. That tale of a typical American family having their lives turned upside down on witnessing a blatant murder has even more social commentary than "Unashamed."
"Unashamed" opens with titular heiress Joan Ogden having a joyous reunion with polo playing playboy beau Harry Swift, who unbeknownst to that loose woman is born Harry Schmidt. The first of many creepy moments involving Joan sibling Dick Ogden (Robert Young of "Father Knows Best" and "Marcus Welby") has the lovebirds joke about the brother and the sister relationship being a source of jealousy.
The audience soon is let on the scheme of Swift; he is after a $3 million inheritance that Joan will receive on whatever comes first regarding her father releasing that money or her having an impending milestone birthday. This lad conning his (apparently very successful) old-world style grocer father out of the seed money reinforces that he deserves the fate that he experiences.
Swift steps up his game by (apparently easily) seducing Joan into spending the night at a hotel with him; the idea is that Mr. Ogden will release the inheritance to facilitate avoiding a scandal by having Joan marry Harry. This is not the premise of the '50s sitcom "I Married Joan."
The existing melodrama amps on the morning after the walk of little if any shame; excitable boy Dick defends his own honor and that of his sister by killing Harry.
This transitions "Unashamed" to a wonderfully Depression-era courtroom drama. A highlight is having Lewis Stone of the "Andy Hardy" film series play defense attorney/family friend Henry Trask. The loyalty of Joan to her dead boyfriend is behind her failure to cooperate regarding the plan of Trask to present an "unwritten law" defense on behalf of Dick.
An uneasy truce results in Joan moving from the family home to a hotel; she agrees to attend the trial of Dick, but not to actively advocate on his behalf, Meanwhile, the prosecutor is asserting that there is not such thing as unwritten law. He further mercilessly grills Dick on the stand.
Things looking dire for Dick leads to arguably the best scene in the film. Joan is seated in an armchair with her hands firmly clasped against the arms of the chair and her legs pressed against the legs of the chair as Trask graphically describes the process of being fried in Old Sparky.
This wake-up call presents a dilemma for Joan in a manner that shows that chops of actress Helen Twelvetrees. Our lady effectively of at least one evening must resolve how to credibly change her story from asserting that Harry did not nothing to provoke the killing and to maintain what she considers her integrity while avoiding becoming an only child.
The 11th-hour solution is a good believable twist that somewhat reflects that the court system delivers justice, It also reflects the impending Hays Code by showing that no sin goes unpunished,