Victor Emmric: It’s a wretched night.
Supt. George Edward Grodman: Maybe it’s only you who is wretched, Victor.
When most folks think of Sydney Greenstreet they think Casablanca and when they think Peter Lorre their minds automatically jump to the despised (from his perspective) films of the Mr. Moto series. What most forget is that the two of them combined to become a pretty decent pairing on screen in their own right. 1946’s The Verdict is ninth and last outing for this dynamic duo.
Greenstreet, who didn’t come to the big screen until he was in his sixties, is successful police superintendent George Grodman. Sadly he learns as the picture opens that a case he worked brought an innocent man to the gallows. Though key information was withheld from Grodman, he still takes the fall and is forced to resign.
He is replaced by Superintendent John Buckley, who incidentally is the same person who was withheld the information in the first place. Although it is never stated explicitely, the tea leaves seem to indicate that Buckley has been jockeying for the job for some time. Given all the twists of the story it helps if you keep this in mind throughout. Grodman retires quietly to write his memoirs, with a plan to highlight significant cases from throughout his career to serve as teaching tools to future policemen.
Grodman’s retirement is almost immediately interrupted by a murder across the street. The landlady rushes across the street to awaken Grodman, informing him that one of her tenants, Arthur Kendall, isn’t answering the door and she fears the worst. Grodman rubs the sleep from his eyes and rushes over, breaking down Kendall’s door and finding him dead- his throat cut. The question remains of how did the murderer escape from Kendall’s room while leaving the windows and door securely locked?
Grodman immediately immerses himself in the case to help Buckley, who searches far and wide in a frantic grasp for suspsect. Grodman recruits his friend Victor Emmric (Peter Lorre) into the fray as well. Emmric shares the same building as the deceased and become Watson to Grodman’s Holmes.
The storyline runs much like you might see in one of the old Rathbone / Bruce series of Holmes’ tales. Along the way every character in the story becomes the leading suspect for a short period, before at last the culprit is revealed. Outside of some brief physical action when the body is discovered, all the suspense is generated purely by the dialogue and the dynamic performances. The final twist of the knife is a good one, but we won’t reveal it here.
As usual, Lorre and especially Greenstreet dominate the proceedings here. Lorre continues showcasing his usual expressionistic style, full of his characteristic eye and hand contortions. But it is Greenstreet who really towers over all comers, as he should in this film. He deploys a mixture of coy cooperation and backhanded gladhanding for his successor, but the constant twinkle in his eye adds still more panache to an already great performance.
The Verdict was the introductory feature of director Don Siegel, whose lengthy career included the science fiction classic The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He intentionally obscures at times the periphery of the image and allowing it to plunge into darkness, which serves only to heighten the suspense. The end result is an invigorating mixture of gothic and noir stylings.
Although the quality of the cast and the film itself speaks against it, The Verdict was released as a typical “B” picture. If only we were so lucky now to have such a high quality level for our second rate films. It was deemed a bust by the New York Times on its original release.
Highly recommended and well worth any time you can devote to it. In 2009 it was released as part of the Warner Archive collection.