Tattered Dress, The (1957)

Tattered Dress, The (1957)

“Get this through your head: it’s not that New York lawyer you have to be afraid of, it’s me.”

When a high-powered lawyer (Jeff Chandler) successfully defends a wealthy philanderer (Phillip Reed) against murder, the local sheriff (Jack Carson) takes offense and plots to charge Chandler with bribery of a juror (Gail Russell).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Courtroom Drama
  • Falsely Accused
  • Gail Russell Films
  • Jack Arnold Films
  • Jack Carson Films
  • Jeanne Crain Films
  • Jeff Chandler Films
  • Lawyers
  • Sheriffs

This minor but reasonably effective courtroom thriller by B-director Jack Arnold isn’t quite as seedy or melodramatic as its title would imply. Rather than focusing on the titular tattered dress — representing a corrupt client’s supposed motivation for a crime of passion — the screenplay concerns itself with the cat-and-mouse dynamics between rags-to-riches Chandler (a once poor, now highly successful big city lawyer with a reputation for successfully defending guilty clients) and Jack Carson’s duplicitous sheriff, who takes offense at what he sees as a serious breach of both justice and authority in “his” town.

Chandler acquits himself well in the central role, and Gail Russell is, as always, a welcome presence:

— but it’s Carson who really stands out here as an inspired casting choice; he roundly flouts his all-American “good boy” persona and taps into Sheriff Hoak’s depraved but honor-bound morality to create a character we can’t help but feel afraid of.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jack Carson as Sheriff Hoak

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look.


One thought on “Tattered Dress, The (1957)

  1. First viewing. Ultimately a must – as one that can grow on you and grab you as it goes. A bit of a gem, really.

    I can’t say I tend to be all that curious about film producers, but I’m very intrigued to know more about the guy responsible here: Albert Zugsmith. As I’ve mentioned previously at this site, this is a man who apparently begged, borrowed and stole to bring us not only some of the best bad movies ever (‘Female on the Beach’, ‘Girls Town’) but also some genuine classics (‘Touch of Evil’, ‘The Tarnished Angels’, ‘Written on the Wind’). His very-mixed-bag career also contains oddities like ‘High School Confidential’, ‘Platinum High School’, and the extremely bizarre result of his own ‘directorial vision’, ‘Confessions of an Opium Eater’.

    With Al, ya just never really knew what you were gonna get. And it’s true; the title of this film does make you think you’re headed for sleazy B-movie territory. And you kind of are. But it’s actually pretty good. Especially once it picks up speed with plot development.

    As courtroom drama (which this largely is), and in its own weird way, ‘TTD’ could be right up there with Lumet’s ‘The Verdict’. Of course, ‘The Verdict’ is a much, much better, richer film – but ‘TTD’ is a marvelous exploration of how victory in the justice system breaks down to which attorney is better at manipulation.

    You probably won’t want to know too much going into this one. It does have unexpected surprises – especially in the area of duplicity.

    Director Arnold moves things along rather efficiently (beginning with a very effective, dialogue-free opening). The cast turns in solid work, with Chandler leading in a respectable performance (even if his long summary speech near the film’s end certainly, I think, takes some kind of ‘poetic license’ in terms of what would be tolerated by a presiding judge). I do love the scene in which he badgers Russell when she’s on the stand. And Jeanne Crain manages some lovely, understated work as Chandler’s wife; their marital problems are intelligently laid out.

    But, playing someone akin to a Jim Thompson character, Carson is – as they say – a revelation. In a rare opportunity to be the central focus of a film, this always-dependable character actor is mesmerizing. He is the main reason to track this one down – but by no means the only reason. …And what a finish!

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