A boy haunted by nightmares about the night his entire family was murdered is brought up by a neighboring family in the 1880s. He falls for his lovely adoptive sister but his nasty adoptive brother and mysterious uncle want him dead.
Judge Cooke, good husband and father, is known in court as Old Man Maximum. Cooke's daughter loves defender Dave Douglas, who hates Cooke's attitude toward defendants. Cooke's life shatters when he learns his wife has terminal brain cancer; as her pain worsens, he begins to consider mercy-killing, but that would place him in the position of a defendant.Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
One of my favorite Fredric March performances, and an unfairly forgotten film
Here Fredric March plays criminal court judge Calvin Cooke who has a reputation as a sort of "hanging judge" so that he has earned the nickname of "old man Maximum". Edmond O'Brien plays a defense attorney arguing a case before the judge. While O'Brien's character looks at the spirit of the law, Judge Cooke looks only at the letter of it and it is obvious from the opening court scene that the two do not like each other. What do they have in common? They both love the judge's only daughter, Ellie.
Now this doesn't mean that the judge is a bad guy. He likes his community, adores his wife of twenty years (Florence Eldridge as Catherine Cooke), and loves his daughter.
But more trouble is afoot than just a suitor for his daughter's hand that the judge dislikes. His wife Catherine has been having headaches, dizziness, and has been dropping things due to numbness in her hands. She confides in a friend who also happens to be a doctor that she has "a friend" with these symptoms, and the doctor sees through her ruse and says that she should come to his Philadelphia office the next day for a check-up. She does that, but lies to Calvin and says she is going shopping.
This is where I do some head scratching. The news is bad - Catherine has a type of inoperable brain tumor that means a certain and painful death. The doctor tells Catherine that everything is fine. Who does he call? After sticking a cancer stick in his mouth to relieve the stress (????) the good doctor calls Calvin, her husband and tells HIM the truth. They both decide to not tell Catherine, the ACTUAL patient, the truth. Later when Catherine finds out, she decides not to talk about it either, even though by the way she found out she must know that her husband knows. Why isn't anybody talking to anybody about this woman's illness? Everybody just goes on pretending. Maybe this is the way it was 60 years ago, and that is one reason I love classic film - it gives you real insight into a bygone era about how people handled life, in this case illness, the fact that doctors routinely smoked, that grown daughters lived at home and pretty much went from the custody of their fathers to their husbands, and that it was acceptable for a policeman to shoot a dog that had been run over by a car in plain view of the general public - a mercy killing. This last incident happens as the judge is walking down the street to get pain medicine for his wife that just isn't doing the job. The implication is that mercy killing is on the mind of "old man Maximum" too. How will all of this work out? Watch and find out.
Even though all of the characters in this film are basically "good people" with good intentions, you could almost classify this one as a noir, because there are no easy answers, no possible way to a happy ending. I've seen a restored version of this film on Turner Classic Movies in the last year, so I wish Universal would find some way to get it out to the public. The questions the film raises are still relevant today. Highly recommended.
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