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People Against O'Hara

The People Against O'Hara

Director: John Sturges, Spencer Tracy, Pat O'Brien, Diana Lynn

Cast: John Sturges, Spencer Tracy, Pat O'Brien, Diana Lynn

Fish-market worker Johnny O'Hara (James Arness) is named as a suspect when his boss -- with whom he had a dispute the previous day -- is shot to death in an apparent robbery. When he's arrested, his family appeals to their old friend James Curtayne (Spencer Tracy), who was once a renowned criminal attorney but is now in civil practice. He


Fish-market worker Johnny O'Hara (James Arness) is named as a suspect when his boss -- with whom he had a dispute the previous day -- is shot to death in an apparent robbery. When he's arrested, his family appeals to their old friend James Curtayne (Spencer Tracy), who was once a renowned criminal attorney but is now in civil practice. He resists their entreaties until he realizes that no decent attorney will handle the case properly; his daughter (Diana Lynn) watches with alarm, however, for we soon learn that Curtayne is an alcoholic, and that the major factor in his life that pushed him over the edge was the stress of having someone's life in his hands. He discovers soon enough just how much Johnny's life is in his hands when his client refuses to level with him about his real whereabouts on the night of the murder. He also realizes as the trial starts precisely how rusty he is in the courtroom, and the old stresses return -- and with them, his drinking. Curtayne not only manages to lose the case but destroys his career when he tries to buy off a larcenous prosecution witness. His client facing a death sentence and his own life and career in ruins, he's seemingly hit bottom, but then new evidence surfaces, of a nature that not even the ambitious prosecutor (John Hodiak) can ignore. Recognizing that his client was actually innocent and also acting in his silence -- however stupidly -- from the noblest of motives, Curtayne is willing to redeem himself by putting his own life on the line, confronting a killer who has taken more than one life without any compunction whatsoever, and who has no reason to spill anything. The People Against O'Hara was a well-made, largely location-shot crime drama set in New York City, but it wouldn't have been nearly so prestigious a movie were it not for the presence of Spencer Tracy in the role of Curtayne. Ironically enough, he only agreed to do the film on the condition that his friend Pat O'Brien, who hadn't been in a major studio release in a couple of years, be given a large role, which he got as the lead detective on the case, and O'Brien and Tracy get a couple of really good scenes together. The film also includes an unbilled appearance by Charles Bronson, who was still working as Charles Buchinski in 1951, and is highlighted by a superb prominent supporting performance by William Campbell, who seems to quietly relish every nuance of his portrayal of a totally slimy character.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
In The People Against O'Hara, director John Sturges seemed to want to cover some of the same territory that he had successfully traversed in Mystery Street the year before, using New York City rather than Boston as its setting (and some very effective location shooting). It has a bigger budget and a better cast, led by Spencer Tracy and John Hodiak, and James Arness is very good as a not-too-bright lug who gets himself into deep water. But it isn't quite as good a movie, mostly owing to the baggage that it carries in the script, including way too much backstory, which Sturges manages to convey rather clunkily. The first half, in which we are introduced to these characters, is rather heavy-handed, and Tracy doesn't seem entirely comfortable with the role in those scenes, although many other sequences are fine. The scene in which the police confront and pursue Johnny O'Hara through the streets of Lower Manhattan is practically the rehearsal for the pursuit of Richard Attenborough's character through the German streets in The Great Escape a dozen years later, but gems like that aren't enough to move the first half along fast enough. It's only when we get past the preliminary dramatics, in the middle and the second half, that the movie comes properly to life. The other "problem" with this movie, at least for viewers at the time, is the jaundiced view it presents of humanity; there aren't really any "heroes" in The People Against O'Hara, and no one to attach to emotionally until Tracy's character tries to achieve redemption. The prosecutor, played extremely well by John Hodiak, is a callously ambitious figure until his conscience is pricked by Tracy's debasement of his professional standing; and even Arness' O'Hara, for all of his good intentions, comes off as too stupid for words during most of the movie. This may all serve to make the movie realistic on that level, but it was also a difficult sell at the time, and the problems with the early segments make it all less than satisfying today. On the other hand, there are some brilliant scenes in the movie. William Campbell's portrayal of Frank Korvac is one of the highlights of his career (and Campbell played many a criminal in his time, including some famous ones), and his scenes with Hodiak and Tracy, in and out of the courtroom, are phenomenal. That also goes for Tracy's scenes with Pat O'Brien, playing the chief investigator on the case. In addition, the use of actual New York City locales, everywhere from the court buildings on Centre Street to the streets underneath Manhattan's highways, gives the movie a bracing immediacy that almost overcomes some of the clunkier dramatic scenes in the first half. And there are some entertaining character and bit portrayals, including Julius Tannen and a soon-to-be-blacklisted Ned Glass, in some very important scenes. The movie was also extremely important in Sturges' career, for demonstrating that he could work well with the increasingly irascible Tracy, which enabled him to get the legendary actor, and get a great performance out of him, in Bad Day at Black Rock, which made Sturges' critical and commercial reputation.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Warner Archives
Region Code:
[Full Frame]
Sales rank:

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Spencer Tracy James Curtayne
Pat O'Brien Vincent Ricks
Diana Lynn Ginny Curtayne
John Hodiak Louis Barra
Eduardo Ciannelli Knuckles Lanzetta
James Arness Johnny O'Hara
Jay C. Flippen Sven Norson
William Campbell Frank Korvac
Richard Anderson Jeff Chapman
Henry O'Neill Judge Keating
Arthur Shields Mr. O'Hara
Louise Lorimer Mrs. O'Hara
Ann Doran Betty Clark
Emile G. Meyer Capt. Tom Mulvaney
Regis Toomey Fred Colton
Katherine Warren Mrs. Sheffield
Charles Anthony Hughes George
Angi O. Poulos Watchman
Phyllis Graffeo Mary
Joyce Otis Thelma
Paul Bryar Detective Howie Pendleton
Peter Mamakos James Korvac
Perdita Chandler Gloria Adler
Frank Ferguson Al
Lee Phelps Emmett Kimbaugh
Lawrence Tolan Vincent Korvac
Jack Lee Court Clerk
Tony Barr Little Wolfie
Jan Kayne Girl
Virginia Hewitt Girl
Richard Landry Sailor
Billy Vincent William Sheffield
Frank Hyers Bartender
Michael Dugan Charlie Detective
Lennie Bremen Harry
Jim Toney Officer Abrams
Benny Burt Sammy
John Maxwell Thayer Connolly
Mae Clarke Receptionist
Paul McGuire Male Stenographer
Kay Scott Secretary
Julius Tannen Toby Baum
Dan Foster Assistant District Attorney
Harry Cody Photographer
Ned Glass Magistrate
John Butler Court Clerk
Lou Lubin Eddie
Michael Mark Workman
Maurice Samuels Papa Lanzetta
Celia Lovsky Mrs. Korvac
Charles Buchinsky Angelo Korvac
Bill Fletcher Pete Korvac
Fred Essler Augie
John Albright Waiter
John Sheehan Postal Clerk
Jack Kruschen Detective
Bill Self Technician
Jonathan Cott Policeman
William Schallert Intern
Sam Finn Gambler
Brooks Benedict Gambler
Frank Sully Fishmonger
Ernesto Morelli Fishmonger
Jeff Richards Ambulance Driver
George Magrill Court Attendant
Bud Wolfe Fingerprint Technician
Strother Martin Actor
Yvette Dugay Mrs. Lanzetta
Donald Dillaway Monty
Richard H. Bartlett Tony Korvac

Technical Credits
John Sturges Director
John Alton Cinematographer
James Basevi Art Director
Carmen Dragon Score Composer
Cedric Gibbons Art Director
Arnold A. Gillespie Special Effects
Jacque Mapes Set Decoration/Design
John Monks Screenwriter
Warren Newcombe Special Effects
Helen Rose Costumes/Costume Designer
Gene Ruggiero Editor
William J. Tuttle Makeup
Edwin B. Willis Set Decoration/Design
William H. Wright Producer

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