“A pretty murderess is as safe here as she is in her mother’s arms!”
A reporter (George Montgomery) recounts the story of a performer (Ginger Rogers) advised by her agent (Lynne Overman) to take the rap for a murder committed by her husband (George Chandler) in order to give her career a boost — and who received ample coaching from her lawyer (Adolphe Menjou) in using her femininity to convince the media, the jury, and the public of her innocence.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Adolphe Menjou Films
- Courtroom Drama
- Flashback Films
- Ginger Rogers Films
- Media Spectacle
- Play Adaptation
- William Wellman Films
This early screen adaptation of Maurine Dallas Watkins‘ 1926 play Chicago — turned into a Broadway musical in 1975, which was then adapted as the 2002 Oscar-winning film — was based on the real-life stories of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, and gives ample credence to the notion that “feminine wiles” will get you plenty-far (and may save your life) in the American court system. Unfortunately, the entire affair is over-played to an extreme: Rogers’ scheming ‘Roxie Hart’ smacks gum and preens in front of her various audiences like a caricature of a wind-up doll, and the rest of the cast plays along in kind. It’s too bad there’s no subtlety here whatsoever, given that the topic — are women treated preferentially in court cases and the media, given their ability to turn on their charm and sexuality, weep at will, and get pregnant? — is well worth a closer look. (It’s been too long since I watched the 2002 remake for me to comment on how well it succeeds in this arena.) The idea of the media and the public going wild for any kind of spectacle, and turning on a dime as soon as something else piques their interest, certainly remains true enough: the scene showing two versions of a newspaper ready for selling, depending on Roxie’s verdict, nicely depicts an old-school version of Twitter, as a vendor listens down on the street for news from the courtroom up above, then tosses out the appropriate version within seconds. However, both screenwriter Nunnally Johnson and director William Wellman try far too hard for laughs; as noted by Bosley Crowther in his review for the New York Times:
Mr. Johnson and Mr. Wellman, who directed, have squeezed every laugh they could from it. As a matter of fact, one fault is that they have squeezed just a bit too hard. A gag such as a box full of jurors gawking at Miss Rogers’s legs or a judge jumping into a news picture is funny when pulled once or twice. But several times is too many.
Indeed; it’s a good thing this film is only 75 minutes long.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Roxie’s impressive tap-dance on a metal staircase (choreographed by Hermes Pan)
- Atmospheric cinematography by Leon Shamroy
Nope; feel free to skip this one.