Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Directed by: Roland West
Starring: Chester Morris, Eleanore Griffith, and Regis Toomey
Plot: A strident police captain investigates a murder whose main suspect is an ex-gangster with a seemingly airtight alibi.
Thoughts: Last time we looked at the first talking Western, now we'll see one of the earliest, if not the earliest, talking gangster film. It's a decent film that initially plays into ambiguities. You're not sure who committed the murder and you're not entirely sure to trust the police either. However, by the last half hour, it was very clear who was who as the stereotypes were trotted out.
Based on the play "Nightstick", Alibi borrowed a bit from the German expressionism found in many of the latter day silents (particularly in the beginning of the film) before delving into the gangster genre. While the aforementioned stereotypes were present, they're portrayed very well. The acting in Alibi was good, with Chester Morris chewing some serious scenery toward the end of the film. It wouldn't surprise me if James Cagney based his gangster characters after Morris' performance here.
One of the more interesting aspects about this film is that both a talking and a silent version were produced and released. However, it was the talking version (using Fox's Movietone process) that earned the Outstanding Picture (eventually to become Best Picture) nomination. The film was released on VHS and is available on DVD, but the opening credits had to be digitally recreated; my guess is that they've been lost. As with other early talking films, dialogue can be a bit difficult to discern at times. Whereas the DVD for In Old Arizona had a subtitle option, there was no such option with this DVD.
Alibi did not take home the 2nd Academy Award ceremony's Outstanding Production award or any other award that night. Chester Morris was nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Warner Baxter for In Old Arizona. Also, William Cameron Menzies was nominated for Best Art Direction, but lost to Cedric Gibbons for The Bridge of San Luis Rey (which was not nominated for Outstanding Picture).