Illegal is a film noir from 1955 starring film noir great Edward G. Robinson. This film is also one of the first films of Jane Mansfield’s short career.
The film is directed by Lewis Allen and a screenplay by noir writers W.R. Burnett and James R. Webb based on a story from Frank J. Collins. This is the third time Collins’ story was brought to the silver screen. I’ve never seen the other two films, so I can not compare the three.
This movie starts out with Robinson as a District Attorney winning a case. We see the man convicted going to the electric chair. Robinson is rushing to the hospital where he is given a death-bed confession. He calls the prison and is too late, they have executed an innocent man Robinson got convicted. Robinson quits the office and soon becomes a defense attorney. He is also in love with his assistant, played by Nina Foch who stays at the D.A.’s office and marries another man played by Hugh Marlowe. Robinson uses his great skills to win cases for some of the worst criminals in town. This shows one case after another, won in grand fashion by Robinson. The last case of the film is a very personal one for Robinson’s character and it cranks up the tension and grittiness of the film.
This film is obviously at a lower quality level then we are used to from Robinson. Robinson of course was in some of the greatest pre-noir gangster films and a list of some of the best films noir of the 1940’s. He was then caught up in the McCarthy Un-American Activities Committee. He testified and was absolved of Communist activities, but was never in anymore great films. He did elevate films like this one but was never able to re-gain his standing as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, playing minor parts in big movies and big parts in small movies.
This is still a good film worth watching for Robinson fans and classic film noir fans. Though it isn’t the same quality of story and production of his earlier stuff, it is still a highly enjoyable performance and film.
Favorite Tidbit: Edward G. Robinson’s character is loosely based on the famous lawyer Bill Fallon, “The Great Mouthpiece” who got gambler Arnold Rothstein off for the “Black Sox” of 1919 World Series fix. His likeness has appeared in a number of films and television series over the years.