The Bridge of Sighs (1936)
Assistant District Attorney Jeffery Powell has just sent an innocent man to prison for the murder of a gambler. Powell is in love with, Marion Courtney, but he's unaware that Marion is the sister of the innocent man he sent to prison. Marion gets herself committed to a women's prison to get proof from inmate, Evelyn 'Duchess' Thane, that her brother is innocent. Powell learns of Marion's plight and believes she's in love with the man he sent to prison.
It says much for the skill of director Phil Rosen that we are actually able to follow this film's corkscrew narrative quite well, despite its trick opening (which is solely designed to form an excuse for the title), extremely complicated plot and multiple impersonations. Many of the players – in fact more than half the principal cast – are not what they seem. And this applies to small-time players as well as the stars. So credit must also of course go to the cast, particularly heroine Dorothy Tree, plus "Duchess" Mary Doran, Paul Fix as the innocent guy that hero Onslow Stevens has railroaded into prison, Lafe McKee as a sympathetic heavy, John Kelly as the cabbie thug, Robert Homans as the homicide captain who deserts his post to aid the reluctant hero, and Onslow Stevens as the dumb bunny hero himself. About the only members of the cast who not leading double lives are dull, no-brains Stevens and defense attorney Selmer Jackson. Directed with a sure hand by Phil Rosen, Bridge of Sighs (sic) is available on very good Alpha DVD.
Question marks and inconsistencies abound in this cheap programmer from Invincible Pictures, the kind that always make me wonder why the film makers even bothered. The biggest head scratcher here is how Marion Courtney (Dorothy Tree) got to be an inmate at Women's State Prison - how did that happen? And did anyone else wonder why all the other female prisoners were such good lookers? Chatting and laughing it up with each other like they had no care in the world. None of it rang true, nor did the original crime that put Harry West (Paul Fix) behind bars for the murder that began the picture. The murder weapon winds up in the pocketbook of Duchess Evelyn (Mary Doran), and she's not even considered a suspect? OK, she winds up convicted as an accessory after the fact, but this was all just so sloppy that it defies credibility.It's only when the picture was over that I was able to put two and two together with Paul Fix portraying Harry West. He looked completely unrecognizable to those of us who knew him better as Sheriff Micah Torrance in the Chuck Connors 'Rifleman' TV series. Fix popped up in a lot of these old programmers from back in the day, but for me, he'll always be remembered best for his work in TV and movie Westerns. The revelation in this picture that he was Marion's brother seemed to come out of left field at the finale, serving no purpose other than to create some tension in the Courteney/Powell romance.
This film is missing something. It's a sense of order. When it's all over, the whole thing is very confusing. There are so many plot holes and convenient events that it just doesn't work. What was that crime exactly and why did the guy get nailed so badly? And how could that girl be thinking so fast as to keep the gun? And why did she end up in a prison with rooms that looked like the YMCA with weapons all around? And why wouldn't she tell? It's so full of things that just wouldn't happen if a man's life was at stake. Then there are the criminals who set things up and the double cross. It's a veritable mess of events that just don't wash, even in the world of the low budget crime movie. The actors also look like they are a bit bored and have nothing to work with.
Phil Rosen directed many films of this type - - "B" crime themed melodramas - - and always with efficiency, as in the case here, a low budget Invincible Pictures Corporation production that, although replete with expected shortcomings, possesses those elements that result from the presence of stage experienced players acquainted with developing largely hackneyed scenes and dialogue into sequences that will provide entertainment for themselves as well as to an audience. Onslow Stevens, frequently cast as a heavy, here performs as Jeffrey Powell, New York City Deputy District Attorney who just happens to be at the scene of a nightclub homicide, following which he is tasked with prosecution of the accused, Harry West (Paul Fix), who distressingly is somewhat mysteriously connected with Jeffrey's romantic target Marion Courtney (Dorothy Tree), the latter not being convinced of West's guilt and ostensibly having such a profound interest in the case that she decides to personally involve herself in an attempt to find whomever might be the actual killer. In some unknown fashion, Marion creates for herself a lengthy criminal history, becomes arrested for an unknown crime, subsequently convicted and assigned to the state prison wherein, naturally, resides "Duchess" (Mary Doran), moll of the man, Arny Norman (Walter Byron), suspected by Marion as being the true murderer, escapes with the other woman, following which the pair flees to the residence of Norman who is in hiding from yet other evildoers due to gambling debts, and so forth, with logic not expected to befog a nonsensical plot that careers toward a climax that mixes puerile violence with farce. The film's title refers to a covered and enclosed walkway bridging from a courthouse directly into a prison, only vaguely evocative of the Venetian original. Tree works hard at making something of her role and the film includes several episodes that feature rather witty dialogue, but this is an unmistakable product of skimpy resources benefiting largely from the editing of Ernest Nims (his first English language assignment) that keeps the action moving briskly, leaving little opportunity for a viewer to focus upon the plot holes and glaring lack of sense.