Film Review: The People Against O’Hara (1951)

Release Date: September 1st, 1951
Directed by: John Sturges
Written by: John Monks Jr.
Based on: The People Against O’Hara by Eleazar Lipsky
Music by: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Pat O’Brien, James Arness, Diana Lynn, Yvette Duguay, Charles Bronson

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 102 Minutes

Review:

“[Near the eel tank] One thing about eels… give ’em air.” – Eddie

The People Against O’Hara is strangely the first movie I’ve reviewed with Spencer Tracy in it. It’s also a classic film-noir, so merging these two things should lead to an enjoyable experience.

Sadly, this isn’t as good as I had hoped but it does feature a great performance by Tracy, showing the audience what a truly virtuous hero is.

In this, Tracy plays a retired criminal attorney named James Curtayne. When Johnny O’Hara, someone from his neighborhood, is accused of murder, Curtayne decides to take the case after the pleas of O’Hara’s loving parents. This all leads to Curtayne investigating the murder and uncovering details that O’Hara had been set up by a gangster named Knuckles because O’Hara had been messing around with his young wife, Katrina. O’Hara doesn’t do himself any favors by not giving the full truth. The reason being, he wants to protect Katrina. In the end, while trying to take Knuckles down, Curtayne goes into a situation where he knows he’ll probably die. But to him, justice is more important than his own life.

I don’t want to spoil too many of the plot details but I did want to illustrate the type of man that Curtayne is. Spencer Tracy, in the role, did a fine job of making Curtayne a believable and authentic hero.

The rest of the cast was good but the scenes with Yvette Duguay as Katrina really stood out to me. I really liked her and she has that old school, majestic, starlet quality. It made me wonder why I hadn’t really seen her before and although she has a lot of credits to her name, she never seemed to be the star of anything, which is unfortunate.

As far as the look of the film, it was pretty standard. It wasn’t an overly stylized noir and was filmed without much artist flourish added in. I feel like it could’ve used some creative cinematography and lighting, as in these sort of films, that can take something average and make it into something much better.

The People Against O’Hara has some solid character moments and the plot is decent. However, when compared to the best films of the classic noir genre, it doesn’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s.