John Larkin’s Circumstantial Evidence is a B-movie cautionary tale against convicting people on less than solid, direct evidence. There are lots of good actors toiling away here on a movie that doesn’t look like it cost anything to make (small scale sets, ordinary clothes, and a less than star laden cast), but despite the usual lack of development in plot and characterization in this lower bill programmer, the director has staged a couple of cracking good suspense scenes that somewhat compensate for lapses elsewhere.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 7 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmray case
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 10/15/2013
Hot-tempered Joe Reynolds (Michael O'Shea) goes after a baker (Ben Welden) who slaps his son Pat (Billy Cummings) and takes away his new hatchet after the baker discovers the boy chopping away at wooden crates behind his shop. In their confrontation, the baker slips and hits his head on a metal table killing him, but the three eyewitnesses standing directly behind Joe believe they saw Joe raising the hatchet and striking down the baker. On the basis of their testimony, Joe is found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to execution. Pat, desperate to save his father from electrocution, attempts to talk the witnesses (Ruth Ford, Byron Foulger, William Frambes) into changing their testimony to earn his father an appeal, but they dislike his strong arm tactics, and they dismiss him. Family friend Sam Lord (Lloyd Nolan), who eventually takes over guardianship of Pat, comes up with a plan that might earn Joe an appeal, but Joe has his own plans of avoiding execution – he’s going to break out of prison.
The Production Rating: 2.5/5
It’s best not to dwell on the lamer aspects of the trial and conviction of Reynolds (script by Robert Metzler) since it’s obvious that the crime scene would have yielded a fair share of evidence that would have refuted some of the eyewitness testimony and would have corroborated Joe’s view of the accident (at least enough to install reasonable doubt into the minds of the jury). In fact, the movie doesn’t even bother showing us any of the defense’s case. We see only the damning testimony of the witnesses and Joe’s understandably emotional reaction to their words. Instead, it’s the film’s second half where interest begins building and suspense begins mounting as Joe’s last hours before execution tick off. Pat and Sam’s staging of a brouhaha at a local boxing tournament where the witnesses just happen to be present along with Joe’s discovering that the witnesses have recanted and he must now break back into prison before it’s discovered he’s escaped give the movie its primary reason for existing. The suspenseful trek back behind prison walls is especially well staged and filmed; even on a tiny budget, director Larkin does tricks with lights and shadows that give this little picture a bit of A-movie heft.
Michael O'Shea offers a highly kinetic display of emotional fireworks as the unluckiest man on Earth, but he paints them in broad strokes without much shading. Lloyd Nolan, on the other hand, is a bit too reserved and controlled as the best friend who inadvertently makes things worse before he makes them better. Billy Cummings isn’t quite as driven as the part really calls for, but he does okay. Scotty Beckett as a neighborhood kid with a mean right hook is more natural and might have made a better bet for the leading juvenile part. Ruth Ford and Byron Foulger make especially outraged witnesses that their word would even be questioned. Familiar character actors like John Eldredge as the judge, John Hamilton as the governor who stays the execution, and Ben Welden as the bullying baker are always welcome whenever they appear in similar small, choice roles in films.
The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered here. Though age-related specks and splotches do occur, and the reel change markers do turn up at regular intervals, this is still an impressive transfer. It’s very sharp throughout, and the grayscale features nicely deep blacks and crisp whites. Ordinarily troubling herringbone coats and striped shirts don’t cause the least bit of flashing or disruption. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 7 chapters here.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. While there isn’t much hiss present, there are pops and crackle on occasion, and the volume level has been turned way up and must be adjusted to prevent terrible distortion. Dialogue has been cleanly recorded and is not compromised at all with the music or sound effects.
Audio Rating: 3/5
There are no bonus features at all with this made-on-demand disc.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
A small, unpretentious little programmer, Circumstantial Evidence contains just enough decent acting and clever direction to make it worth a look. The more than decent elements offered in this Fox Cinema Archive release offer this little film its best possible chance at rediscovery.
Overall Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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