- (UK title Citadel of Crime, TV title Wheel of Fortune)
- Directed by John H. Auer
- March 7, 1941
A lawyer takes on big-city corruption when he sets out to prove that an above-suspicion politician is actually a crook.
To call this among the better of Wayne’s films would be stretch. A Man Betrayed is certainly entertaining but not a Wayne or general cinematic classic. It involves political corruption and murder though murder is almost ignored yet it is exactly that which gets the ball rolling. Its main goal seems to be to get the general public feel good about the American political system.
I find it worthy to note that John H. Auer just five years prior directed for Republic Pictures a film with the exact same name but a completely unrelated plot. No connection other than name and director. I just found that an intriguing factoid. Anywho…
I can’t help but think of how unlucky the guy we meet in the opener, Johnny Smith (I cannot find a screen credit for who plays the part), is. In the opening moments of the story our victim comes stumbling out of seedy Club Inferno. He then touches a streetlamp which is struck by lightning and thus killed. Turns out innocent Johnny was shot by a .38 before the hand of God reached out and ended his misery. The only thing missing in his demise was a steam roller.
Enter smalltown lawyer Lynn Hollister (John Wayne) who comes to investigate the death of his friend in the big city. What big city? I’m not sure. From there he tackles all sorts of political corruption that gets treated rather innocently. Rigging elections and manipulating the electorate is more of a nuisance until it isn’t in this movie.
What is a John Wayne movie without a woman woo. And woo her he does. Unfortunately, Sabra (Frances Dee) is the daughter of the local political boss known as Boss Thomas “Tom” Cameron (Edward Ellis). I found the dialogue between the two…weird. That’s to say it sounded much more like a romantic couple than father/daughter. Dear. Sweety. Honey. All stuff from the time to indicate romance.
While Lynn does some investigating and testing of theories, the story feels like it keeps sending him off on side elements not that important. A Man Betrayed might have been boosted a bit if he had done more digging and less romancing. And why exactly is a lawyer called for help by the Smith family? The law background was almost superfluous and only mattered in the closing minutes.
Sabra was a noteworthy character for the time. She is not just there to the romantic interest but Sabra engages with Lynn since she knows he’s digging into her father (though she does not think pops a bad man). I wish that bit had been played up a bit more. Lynn could still come out on top ultimately, but little felt as if it was made of the idea. During the midpoint it was largely ignored.
The idea for A Man Betrayed isn’t bad. And it is something that has been done dozens of times before and since. Small town individual dies in the big city and somebody hunts down their killer. It had some potential. I liked that it touched on political corruption. But it treated things too innocently-even for the era. Republic Pictures, which was known for B-Movies and Westerns, was most likely not going to do something complex and sophisticated. This still was much less than they could have done. While enjoyable, it is extremely superficial and borders on simplistic. I liked it but wanted more.
Boss Cameron is supposed to be this crafty and intelligent political boss (who gets referred to as a politician despite holding no political office) yet is ultimately undone by screwing over club owner T. Amato (Alexander Granach) who had been promised a spot on the city council in favor of Morris “Morrie” Slade (Harold Huber). Given that it is clear Amato lusts for the position and has resources of his own, Cameron tossing him aside seems like an inexcusable miscalculation.
A Man Betrayed is an enjoyable bit of light entertainment. While it touches on serious matters, it doesn’t treat them seriously enough. I’m not thinking it had to be dark and gritty but something a little more dramatic would’ve been my preference. Still, it’s entertaining and you will enjoy your time watching this.