William Powell plays a womanizing Lower East Side lawyer who joins a prestigious uptown firm. His rising star attracts the attention of local political boss John Gilmurry. Powell rebuffs Gilmurry’s advances but loses the moral high ground when he accepts a breach of promise case from a seductive actress. Ignoring advice to drop the suit, Powell becomes entangled in a manufactured scandal, leading to his ruin. Vowing to fight back, Powell promises to “fight dirty” to take down those who wronged him.
Powell opens the film wearing a carnival barker’s straw hat and sporting overgrown hair and a bushy mustache. He gnaws on breadsticks at his local watering hole and ogles women at every opportunity. Joan Blondell plays his long-suffering secretary, unnoticed by Powell except when he glimpses her legs during a shoeshine.
After transitioning to the uptown job, Powell’s grooming improves, but his character remains an oafish womanizer we struggle to embrace. When he’s double-crossed by the breach of promise actress, we’re not surprised.
What does surprise, however, is that a film called Lawyer Man features no courtroom sequences. We don’t see Powell defend himself against the scandal, just spinning clock hands and falling calendar pages to denote time passing.
Then, after the hung jury cannot clear his name, Powell delivers not one, but two lengthy speeches about how he’ll go crooked to get even. Except “crooked” just means taking any case he can, no matter the ethics. So, what’s changed?
Anyway, Powell’s soon riding high again and has a case against Gilmurry. He parlays the case into an appointment as assistant District Attorney. Then he leverages his new office to indict the people responsible for the scandal that ruined him.
His revenge complete, Powell abdicates his post and returns to his Lower East Side practice with Blondell on his arm and his straw hat back on his head.
So what was the point? Others will fill the vacuum left by Powell’s revenge and the corruption will continue. Powell admits as much and seems unchanged by the experience, leaving the viewer nonplussed.
It’s indicative of a script that can’t decide between melodrama, comedy, and social justice. It dabbles but never commits, and thus amounts to nothing. Worse still, Powell’s too old for the part. A twenty-something man chasing skirts is one thing, but a forty-year-old one is another.
A disappointment on almost every front, the film’s lone bright spot comes via David Landau as Gilmurry. His blend of weary menace and charm convinces as a sociopathic king-maker in the script’s only interesting part.