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Within the Law

Within the Law(1939)

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Within the Law (1939)

Bayard Veiller's 1912-1913 Broadway success Within the Law was adapted for films no fewer than five times before 1940: an Australian silent version was made in 1916, followed by an American adaptation from Vitagraph the following year starring Alice Joyce; Joseph Schenck produced a remake in 1924 as a vehicle for his actress wife Norma Talmadge and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer brought the tale to the big screen as a talking picture in 1930, retitled Paid, and starring Joan Crawford as Mary Turner, a wrongly imprisoned shop girl who plots revenge from her prison cell. When Metro remounted the material as Within the Law (1939), the studio assigned direction to Gustav Machat, a Czech migr whose silent Ecstasy (1931) had introduced an 18 year-old (and fleetingly nude) Hedy Lamarr. Machat was by this time subspecializing in adaptations of Veiller's Broadway successes, having helmed MGM's reworking of the drawing room whodunit The Thirteenth Chair (1937) and moving on to Veiller's courtroom melodrama The Trial of Mary Dugan (1941). A former Powers model, Within the Law's leading lady Ruth Hussey knew nothing of prison life but her male costars, Paul Kelly and Tom Neal, had both either done time or were destined to do time for manslaughter; Kelly spent twenty-five months in San Quentin State Prison for the 1927 killing of a romantic rival while Neal would shoot dead his third wife in 1965 and spend six years behind bars, dying of a heart attack in 1971 six months after making parole.

By Richard Harland Smith

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