Story on Page One, The (1959): Clifford Odets’ Routine Courtroom Drama, Starring Rita Hayworth

The second and last film directed by playwright and screenwriter Clifford Odets, The Story on Page One, is a verbose courtroom drama, starring Rita Hayworth.

Anthony Franciosa plays Los Angeles lawyer Victor Santini, who is hired to defend Josephine “Jo” Morris (Hayworth).  She is accused of conspiring with Larry Ellis (Gig Young) to murder her husband Mike Morris (Ryder), a police detective.

Flashbacks show that, stuck in a loveless marriage to Morris, Jo meets and falls for Larry Ellis, a charming widower who comforts her.

Larry’s mother (Mildred Dunnock), a self-righteous controlling mother threatens to expose Jo to her husband.  Jo invites Ellis, believing that her husband is asleep. When Mike discovers them, he pulls out his revolver, and in a struggles with Ellis, he is shot dead.

The lovers are charged with attempted murder.  At the trial, prosecuting attorney Phil Stanley (Sanford Meisner) relates how Jo first told police that a prowler had killed her husband, until a cufflink was found at the scene of the crime.  It’s also revealed that an insurance policy was purchased a week before the shooting.

In the film’s longest scene, Santini successfully erodes the prosecution’s case with searing cross-examination of Ellis’ mother.  The two defendants are declared “not guilty,” and in the last scene, leave the courthouse hand in hand.

Though the film’s nominal star, Rita Hayworth gets little to do but sit and listen quietly to the arguments.  It’s Mildred Dunnock, as the moralistic domineering mother, who has the showy part, manifest in half a dozen scenes, including a revelatory confrontation with her own son.

As usual, Method actor Franciosa overacts, and the whole feature amounts to a routine courtroom melodrama that’s too theatrical for its own good.

Odets again proves that he not a deft filmmaker, and that he had not acquired any skills since his directing debut, None But the Lonely Heart, in 1944, another mother-son melodrama, starring Ethel Barrymore and Cary Grant.

The film, produced at Jerry Wald at Fox, was both an artistic and commercial flop.