Elmer Rice’s screen adaptation of his own legit play retains enough of its natural dramatic power to rate favourably with the original. Directed with complete understanding of the subject, expertly cast in its small but important secondary character roles and well produced on the whole, Counsellor-at-Law is compelling stuff.
The one flaw is in the casting for the principal role. Elmer Rice’s George Simon, an East Side boy who rises to great prominence at the bar, is physically unsuited to John Barrymore, besides being a type of role that he hasn’t tackled in pictures before. Barrymore’s only means of conquering the role is to reshape George Simon into Barrymore. During the early moments he has a struggle on his hands, but the transformation is slowly completed.
The minor characters whose lives are intertwined with Simon’s in this Grand Hotel in a lawyer’s office were largely responsible for the play’s legit success. That fact has not been overlooked in the picture casting, as is evidenced by the importation of eight of the original stage players by Universal. They know their roles and they don’t make any mistakes. These players, all lending valuable aid, are Marvin Kline, Conway Washburn, John Qualen, J. Hammond Dailey, Malka Kornstein, Angela Jacobs, T. H. Manning and Elmer Brown.
Bebe Daniels, like Barrymore, is also out of her own backyard as Simon’s secretary whose affection for her troubled boss goes unrequited until the finish, when it’s vaguely suggested she’ll win her point.