Watching 1939: Within the Law (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult.

within the law1939 film:
Within the Law (1939)

Release date:
March 17, 1939

Ruth Hussey, Tom Neal, Paul Kelly, William Gargan, Paul Cavanagh, Rita Johnson, Samuel S. Hinds, Lynne Carver, Sidney Blackmer, James Burke, Frank Orth,


Gustav Machatý

Mary Turner (Hussey) is falsely accused of grand larceny when stolen goods are planted on her. She’s sent to jail for a three year stretch, and while she’s there, she studies law books. When she gets out, she learns how to break the law … but within the law.

1939 Notes:
• By the numbers:
– Ruth Hussey was in seven films released in 1939.
– Rita Johnson was in seven films released in 1939.
– Tom Neal was in 12 films released in 1939.
– William Gargan was in eight films released in 1939.
– Paul Kelly was in six films released in 1939.
– Sidney Blackmer was in nine films released in 1939.
– Lynne Carver was in three films released in 1939.
– Paul Cavanaugh was in three films released in 1939.
– Samuel S. Hinds was in 15 films released in 1939.
– James Burke was in 12 films released in 1939.

within the law

Other trivia:
• This is one of many film versions based on the 1912 play, “Within the Law.” The other films include:
– Within the Law (1916) — a short film made in Australia
– Within the Law” (1917) — made by Vitagraph in the U.S. starring Alice Joyce, Harry T. Morey and Walter McGrail
– Within the Law (1923) — Produced by Joseph Schenck in the U.S. and starring Norma Talmadge, Lew Cody and Jack Mulhall.
– Paid (1930) — produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and starring Joan Crawford, Robert Armstrong, Marie Prevost and Douglass Montgomery.
– Intaquam (1969) — filmed in India by Shaktiman Enterprises and starring Sadhana and Ashok Kumar.
– Pagabattina Paduchu (1971) — filmed in India
• Lee Bowman was originally going to be cast as Richard Gilder, which went to Tom Neal.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
I’m going to start sounding like a broken record but … bring back the 65 minute movie (or really anything under 90 minutes, for that matter).

This week’s 1939 film WITHIN THE LAW runs at 65 minutes. And in that brief amount of time, the story is effectively packs a punch with a gripping story of a woman falsely accused of a crime and how it alters her life when she’s released from jail.

Now, this isn’t a new story. It was first presented on the stage in 1912 and then told numerous times on film since then. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced this same story starring Joan Crawford just nine years before retelling it as a B-budget quickie.

But despite the multiple versions, I feel like this doesn’t feel like a tired rehashing.

Even in 65 minutes, actress Ruth Hussey is excellent—I think she is really great and doesn’t often get recognized for her ability.

Another highlight is Rita Johnson, who dishes the snappiest lines while looking fabulous. Johnson really has the plum role of the film.

The cast is rounded out by other actors who generally land in B-films like Paul Kelly, Paul Cavanagh, Tom Neal, Samuel S. Hinds and Sidney Blackmer.

Don’t sleep on the 1939 version of WITHIN THE LAW. It’s a good time.

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