by John Holbo on October 1, 2007

Quiet around here. I’ll try to amuse you.

I love Daniel Pinkwater. I feel there is something lost in all this playlisted, Netflixed, on-demand hoo-ha you call Modernity. There needs to be an element of randomized, cinematic, B-listiness. So I bought all these sketchy multi-DVD sets and, every couple weeks, Belle and I ‘snark out’, picking a disc literally at random. (First a random cartoon.) Mostly it’s worked out, until we actually drew Wild Women of Wongo from the deck. We’re too old for that stuff. Now, mostly, we go for SnarkPlatinum or SnarkSelect options (but I won’t bore you with my elaborate randomization system.)

Last week’s pick was "Illegal" (1955), starring Edward G. Robinson, plus bonus DeForest Kelley, Jayne Mansfield, and Henry Kulky action. The tag is simply false: " He was a guy who marked 100 men for death – until a blonde called ‘Angel’ O’Hara marked him for life!" Nothing of the sort happens.

I like the way they used to use quotation marks in the title itself.


But wait. If the title is "Illegal", shouldn’t I have to refer to it as "’Illegal’"?

OK. We’re off to a good start.


Do you really need for me to explain to you what’s going on here?


Dr. McCoy is accused of the crime.


"I’m a doctor, not a murderer!"


It turns out he was wrongly convicted, but not before he was walking Spanish down the hall, if you know what I mean.


The D.A., Victor Scott (Edward G. Robinson – perhaps you have seen his face before) is remorseful and falls perilously into the bottle, only to emerge and win the most spectacular case of his career. He defends some guy who is accused, by Stroogo, from The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T


… of having hit some other guy with a lead pipe. Stoogo is in turn accused by Scott of having been previously rendered unconscious himself, in the brawl in question, by the defendant. So how can he know the defendant hit the victim with aforementioned pipe? Stroogo says there’s no way a ‘little guy’ like the defendant, who is no bigger than Scott himself, could knock out a guy like Stroogo


Because he’s got an iron jaw. While the witness is leaving the stand, the defense attorney employs an inconventional cross-examination technique:




Scott was employing the legal eagle’s best friend: a fist full of nickels. OBJECTION SUSTAINED! (Do they teach this stuff over at the Volokh Conspiracy? I should hope so.)

Over the unconscious body of the victim, Scott moves that the case be dismissed ‘in the interests of justice’. Naturally, the judge agrees.

For his next act, our hero defends a poisoner … by drinking Exhibit A – enough poison to kill 12 men! – in front of the astonished prosecutors!


He predicts they will call for a recess. Luckily they do, and he takes the opportunity to run across the street and get his stomach pumped. (He has researched the poison in question and learned it takes 45 minutes to take effect.)


There’s a gangster moll, of course. She gets called to the stand. Interestingly, Scott has to cross-examine her after he has sustained a life-threatening, medically untreated gunshot wound. I don’t want to give away the ending, but it’s sort of funny the way, after he collapses, everyone – even the judge – is telling him things like ‘I hope to see you in my courtroom again soon, Mr. Scott, under less dramatic circumstances’. And the prosecutors are happily chirping away about how they’ve sent some officers to apprehend so-and-so. But no one thinks to call a doctor. So probably he dies at the end, or something.


It”s a pretty good film.



thag 10.01.07 at 4:03 pm

Pretty good? It sounds *awesome*!

So good…it oughta be “Illegal”!


roger 10.01.07 at 4:07 pm

I just saw that film myself. You skipped the bizarre, apparently sexless marriage of the D.A.’s two assistants, who both seem to have the hots for Robinson. And really, the gangster moll is not testifying at the same trial at which Eddie R. drinks the poison. I know, gotta compress the plot, but not to the point of incomprehensibility.

Still, the high moment was Jayne Mansfield’s accent, which suggests she went to slut prep school, where you learn piano, bosom, and lounging on the sofa. Mansfield’s character made straight As!


Drake 10.01.07 at 4:12 pm

To quote Holbo, the film should be referred to as “””Illegal”””.


John Holbo 10.01.07 at 4:13 pm

You are right, Roger. The post is somewhat misleading. But I hope not to an “illegal” degree.

Yep, you are right about Mansfield’s accent and character.


John Holbo 10.01.07 at 4:15 pm

There’s also the difficulties generated by the tagline:

‘a blonde called ‘Angel’’

Does that mean that, if we want to mention rather than use her name, it would be ”Angel”?


JSE 10.01.07 at 5:00 pm

Not enough Pinkwater in this post. Has any Pinkwater book ever been filmed?


Hermenauta 10.01.07 at 5:15 pm

I´m apalled to learn that when young Dr. Bones was Jude Law.


Rich B. 10.01.07 at 6:15 pm

It turns out he was wrongly convicted, but not before he was walking Spanish down the hall, if you know what I mean.

Actually, I have no idea what you mean. My best internal slang translators tell me that he was either raped by another inmate, was executed in the electric chair, or else became a gay flamenco dancer.


Jacob T. Levy 10.01.07 at 7:05 pm

Just a few days ago I was struggling to remember [childhood favorite] Pinkwater’s name– and even the wonders of google and wikipedia are of limited help when you can’t remember the precise title of any work either. I eventually remembered enough words of one book to get the result. Should have occurred to me that John would know exactly who I was talking about; should have just e-mailed him.


Daniel Pinkwater 10.01.07 at 7:37 pm

Daniel Pinkwater loves you too.


Steve 10.01.07 at 7:43 pm

As my URL might indicate, Pinkwater is a favorite. It ought to be a crime* that Norb is no longer available in any sort of collected form.

* Sorry, “It ought to be ‘Illegal’!”


Drake 10.01.07 at 7:47 pm

With a name like ‘Angel’ (or ”Angel”), it seems appropriate that the name transcend use.


John Holbo 10.01.07 at 11:51 pm

‘Walking Spanish’ is being forced to walk. He’s being forcibly walked down the hall to the electric chair. Tom Waits uses the phrase: “Even Jesus wanted just a little more time/When he was walking Spanish down the hall.”

Daniel Pinkwater loves me!

Glad to be of assistance, Jacob.


John Holbo 10.02.07 at 2:01 am

I assume that wasn’t the real Daniel Pinkwater who signed in as Daniel Pinkwater. (But I can always dream.)


Daniel Pinkwater 10.02.07 at 3:14 pm

There’s a real Daniel Pinkwater?


mr waggish 10.02.07 at 6:26 pm

On the subject of quotes…

“Why is ‘doom’ in quotation marks? Is this some sort of ironic doom?”

Comments on this entry are closed.