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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

'The Public Defender' DVD: Awesome Adventures of a Depression Era Millionaire Playboy Vigilante

Product Details
The titular character in Warner Archive's recent DVD release of "The Public Defender" from 1931 is a wonderful mash-up between The Shadow and Batman.

This alter ego known as The Reckoner of man-child about town Pike Winslow uses dark corners, ominous calling cards, and similar devices to strike fear in the hearts of Depression Era wrongdoers. Richard Dix is fresh off his Oscar-nominated role in "Cimarron" when he plays Winslow.

On a broader level, this self-contained film has a wonderful feel of the exciting serials that gave birth to the phrase cliff-hanger in this era.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, from "Defender" provides an excellent sense of this film.

"Defender" occurs in the wake of The Reckoner commencing his crusade to bring men of power who misuse their influence to the detriment of the masses to justice. This alone creates some anxiety among a group of unscrupulous men who comprise the leadership team of a recently not-too-big-to-fail bank.

The Reckoner having a calling card served up to a member of this cabal intensifies their level of concern, which only increases as it becomes apparent that they are all targets of that vigilante.

Another element of this terrific plot is that this time it is personal; these financiers do not bank (of course, pun intended) on the daughter of the man whom they frame for their malfeasance being the  object of Winslow's affection resulting in putting The Reckoner on their trail.
Much of the fun of "Defender" relates to watching the seemingly dopey and harmless Winslow (ala Clark Kent) socialize with the nefarious bankers at the country club to which they belong and in the homes of that group. This entertainment includes seeing Winslow using those interactions to facilitate the plans of The Reckoner.

It further is fun to see a pre "Frankenstein" Boris Karloff play "The Professor," who is both an aide of The Reckoner and one of the few people who knows his true identity. Associated fun relates to this team merely using heavy drapes across an alcove in the den (not even lair) of Winslow to conceal the incriminating evidence that The Reckoner collects and that would show that he is Winslow.

"Defender" also borrows from the awesome drawing room murder mystery genre by having a climatic scene that involves plunging a room into darkness to further the current quest of The Reckoner. The outcome is largely predictable but is entertaining and has fun surprises.

The solution to the mystery of whether "Defender" is worth adding to your DVD collection is that it ranks high among the rarities that Archive releases.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Defender" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.