Right of Way The (1931)
Produced & directed by Frank Lloyd (The Divine Lady (1929)) adapted by Francis Edward Faragoh (Little Caesar (1930)) this below average drama features more overacting than most silent films and more dialogue than most talkies twice as long; the film runs a scant 65 minutes. There are some opening credits as well as other descriptive placards (this is a remake of two silent versions 1915 & 1920) displayed throughout which attempt to provide profound meaning to this simple story from Sir Gilbert Parker’s novel.
Conrad Nagel is (mis)cast as a snobby yet successful married Quebec lawyer Charles ‘Beauty’ Steele who drinks and cheats on his wife (Olive Tell) of five years. Yola d’Avril plays one of these a waitress in waterfront bar. His baby-faced brother-in-law Billy (William Janney) is a gambler whose theft of $10000 from Steele leads to the lawyer being beaten and left for dead by the loan shark (Snitz Edwards) and his thugs. A former client Joe (Fred Kohler) who had disgusted Steele but was exonerated by his bizarre trial methods (Brandon Hurst plays the DA) nevertheless rescues the lawyer who recovers from the beating with no memory of who he is. Joe has brought him 100 miles north of Quebec to his cabin in the Canadian wilderness. Loretta Young plays a post office employee Rosalie that nurses “Steele” who now thinks his name is Charles Mallard back to health. Naturally she becomes his love interest. When Charles wants to marry Rosalie Joe is forced to reveal what he knows about Charles’s past – that he’s already married. Steele returns to Quebec where he bumps into Billy who’s instantly nervous because he’d thought his past theft had died with the lawyer. Billy tells him that his sister Kathleen had died but Steele then learns that she’d just remarried. Steele returns to the wilderness town where his standoffishness towards Rosalie causes her to finally accept the richest man (Halliwell Hobbes) in town’s proposal. Meanwhile Steele seeks the council of the town’s priest (George Pearce).
*** SPOILERS ***
To wrap things up a bit too nicely Steele is visited by Billy who shoots him in the street. This leads to a deathbed scene in which the former lawyer is able to say his goodbyes to Rosalie before he (only) sees “the angel of death” at the foot of his bed and dies.