Night Court (1932)

  • Entirely coincidentally, this is the second film in a row I’ve watched that’s directed by One-Take Woody (W.S. Van Dyke). Fun!
  • Based on a play by Mark Hellinger (of THE NAKED CITY (1948) fame) and Charles Beahan.
  • Walter Huston plays a man named Judge Moffett, who presides over – you guessed it – a night court. Pre-workday (or work-night, I s’pose), we see Moffett using his time to make out with some girl he wants to keep a secret, taking a hefty bribe from a lawyer whose case he’s about to hear, and giving his reporter buddy a longwinded & regal sounding quote about fully supporting any investigations into corruption within the judicial system.
  • During the first night of hearings that we’re shown, there seem to be lots of regulars (repeat vagrants, drunkards, & prostitutes), plus a couple of other miscellaneous cases with slightly more depth (like the Bribery Lawyer’s).
  • The whole time, Lewis Stone is sitting in the court audience, scowling & observing the proceedings in silence.


  • Ooooh. I think he’s a federally important judge who’s come back to his home city to attempt a cleanup of the justice system! How grand!
  • When Moffett reads in the paper that Judge Osgood (Stone) is in town & figures he could be on Osgood’s list of People to Investigate, he heads straight over to Noel Francis’s house. (This may have been the girl he was making out with earlier. I can’t remember. Anyhow, her character’s name is Lil.)
  • Lil Baker is like, ‘Bro – it’s 4 o’clock in the morning! What the fuck is wrong with you?’ and Moffett’s like, ‘Bro – all my money is stashed behind your painting & I have to cover my tracks. And oh, PS – you have to go into hiding in a slum-partment so no one nabs you. K thanks.’
  • Lil Baker (disappointingly) doesn’t put up much of an argument, & appears not to have known there was a loaded safe behind her painting. Weird.
  • Noel Francis looks a whole lot like Clara Bow in this. It’s kind of uncanny.
  • Osgood: “You don’t cut off a tree at the top – you cut it off at the root. And Moffett is the root.”

GOT IT. Let’s nab him!

  • Lil’s neighbors at the slumpartment are this married couple & their small baby. Lil goes over there & tells the wife (Mary, played by Anita Page) a sob story about how an unwanted man keeps pursuing her & will Mary not tell anyone she’s living there, or reveal any info about her to anyone? Mary’s like, ‘Girl. I got you. Don’t worry.’ (So now Moffett’s reassured of Lil’s security.)

(Not that Moffett gives a shit about Lil’s safety, when it really comes down to it – he just cares that his own secrets are safe.)

(The sooner Lil betrays him, the better, as far as I’m concerned. Moffett’s a bad egg.)

  • Oh! But this is fun – while Lil is sobstorying at the neighbors’, NeighborBaby pulls Moffett’s bank book out of Lil’s purse, and Mary accidentally sees it.
  • This causes Moffett to be suspicious of her – and wonders who her associates might be!

(Hint, Mr. Judgey Poo – she doesn’t have any, & is not interested in your corruption at all.)

  • No! That’s so mean! A Moffett chum breaks into Mary’s apartment & stages a scene to make it look like they were up to something dirty, & that Mary demanded more money from him! So mean!
  • I’m so mad at the police! They’re like, ‘Yeah, random man – we totally believe that this woman invited you up to her bedroom & then caused a ruckus when you wouldn’t pay her more. Aren’t girls the worst?!”


  • It gets even more distressing. THEY – motherfucking Judge Moffett, that is – SENTENCE HER TO 6 MONTHS IN THE COUNTY WORKHOUSE. This is horrendous!
  • You know…the movie does a great job in establishing the likability of Mary Thomas, in such a short amount of time. We only see several mere snippets of scenes with her in them before the framing/sentencing occurs – and yet those snippets do so well in convincing us of her goodness, that when the time comes for us to be outraged, we are really fucking outraged.
  • Y’all.

I don’t know if I can keep watching this movie – I’m getting too mad. Next, do you know what happens? They – again, motherfucking Judge Moffett & his court – take NeighborBaby away from Mike (the neighbor husband, played by Phillips Holmes)! They snatch him! And they say that maybe they can have NeighborBaby back if Mary proves herself fit after her 6 month stint in prison.


I’m real mad, you guys.

Judge Moffett is the motherfucking WORST.

  • Also, now Mike believes his wife is guilty! This is bullshit.
  • The scene of NeighborBaby crying in the orphanage? Jesus.
  • Oh – we might be in luck…I forgot Osgood is still on his anti-corruption, anti-Moffett crusade.
  • Phillips Holmes’s scene alone in the apartment (in which he talks through his belief/disbelief that Mary is guilty) is not very well executed. Holmes’s scenes with other people are fine – but alone, carrying the dialogue by himself? Not great.
  • However! That less-than-stellar monologue of a scene did get Mike to visit Mary to hear her side of the story – which he now believes, thank GOD. And they made the Moffett/Neighbor Lil connection. Hooray!
  • Oh, Christ. Except the detective (Haskins, played by Frank Sheridan) to whom Mike goes with his tale is in league with Moffett. Because of course he is.

Come on, Osgood! We’re waiting on you, man!

  • Poor Mikey. Moffett’s guys beat him ’til he agrees to retract his whole story, then they send him off on a boat to South America.
  • Oh shit! Except Mikey is not on the boat – he’s in the front seat of the taxi waiting outside Moffett’s place! And he takes the motherfucker hostage!
  • “Judge – your friends beat me up. They asked me a lot of questions. They asked me, would I sign a paper? And they asked me, would I take a trip to South America? But there’s one thing they forgot to ask me  — could I swim?” — Mike

I love it. That’s a great series of lines.

  • Wait, what??? Osgood got murdered? He threatened Moffett & indicated where his evidence was kept, & then he didn’t take any security precautions??? Osgood, you were an imbecile!
  • Mikey sees that Moffett’s wanted for Osgood’s murder (how everyone’s confident enough to print that accusation, I have no idea) & turns him in to the courthouse.
  • So…Osgood went through the trouble of installing a recording device in his cigar box – but didn’t think to, you know, arm himself?


Osgood’s recordings are enough to convict Moffett, and unravel everything…but like…Osgood’s still dead, so…?

He seriously couldn’t have thought of a better plan to implicate Moffett that didn’t involve him dying??? That just seems absurd.

  • In conclusion, NeighborBaby is reunited with Mikey & Mary, and they all lived happily ever after. All of the criminals are rounded up, so they did not live happily ever after. And Osgood did not live happily ever after, either, because, well, he died.

(Still don’t get that.)

  • BUT – this was a decent movie. Really upsetting to watch, there through the middle – but it had a plot, script, & characters that kept me interested for the duration. None of the actors truly blew me away, but Walter Huston, Anita Page, & Noel Francis were pretty high quality. Lewis Stone didn’t do enough to really garner much of a mention…and…I already said what I thought about Holmes.
  • I kind of wish we knew more about Lil Baker & how she got involved with the Moffett Racket – but hey, I guess that’d be another whole movie.
  • Could have been better & a little less choppy – but also could have been way worse, and way less engaging (as many 1932-ish crime movies are).

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