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Critical Moments

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Elmer Rice, one of the few successful American playwrights who is sincerely concerned with social conditions in this country, has written a melodrama, “Judgment Day,” which will open at the Belasco Theatre on September 13. The Jewish playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize and has been responsible for such hits as “Street Scene” and “Counsellor-at-Law,” is himself staging the production. Miss Aline Bernstin, the young lady who took time off from her theatrical duties last year to write a novel, has designed the stage settings. In the cast there will be among other players, Romaine Callender, St. Clair Bayfield, Josephine Victor, Fania Marinoff, Walter Greaza, Lee Baker and Carroll Ashburn. Advance reports point to “Judgment Day” as being a lavishly conceived, stirring drama.


The career of Elmer Rice is very disturbing to those believers in the myth that radicals are radicals only because they themselves cannot compete in the present economic system. The idea seems to be that radicalism is nothing more than a kind of jealousy held by the poor and unsuccessful against the rich. It is firmly believed that if you give a radical enough money he would soon forget his radicalism. This last conception is not without its element of truth. Many of our most vociferous protesters seem to lose voice when they find themselves with a bank balance, but no such accusation can be made against Mr. Rice. Born with a sense of social justice, he nevertheless played an unimportant part in liberal circles until he had a complete economic independence. Only after his plays had brought him wealth did Mr. Rice enter the lists of those who had the audacity to think that conditions in America were not perfect.

Unlike many sympathizers and “cause” joiners, Mr. Rice has done more than merely lend his name and prestige. He has played an increasingly active role. He even went so far as to go to Alabama to protest against the treatment accorded the Scottsboro boys. On another occasion he went down to Kentucky into the coal mining region where there were violent strikes to help the miners win what he believed was a fair wage. Only last season he wrote, produced, staged and backed a play entitled “We, the People,” which was a frankly propagandistic attempt to arouse the smug and satisfied out of their apathy. In addition he has been a constant contributor without pay to the radical and liberal papers where he voices his opinions without mincing words.


The latest S. S. Van Dine murder mystery to come to the screen is “The Dragon Murder Case,” via First National. If you care, you may see it at the Rialto Theatre. Rian James, who has written a number of “popular” novels, adapted it for screen purposes.

“The Dragon Murder Case” gets its title from the fact that a young man is found dead on a palatial estate. The police call it suicide, but slick, smart aleck Philo Vance (who in this case is Warren William) sneers and says “murder” and listens to the hint that perhaps a water monster had a hand in the proceedings. However, it eventually transpires that this was just a mundane murder which Vance solves in his stride.

There are many things wrong with this picture, foremost among them being the magical quality of Philo’s art of detection. How he arrives at his conclusions is never satisfactorily explained. Then the characters are totally unbelievable, especially the police who are portrayed as being more stupid than they really are.

Warren William as Philo Vance is the third actor to play that role. His predecessors, Messrs. William Powell and Basil Rathbone were more fortunate in having better vehicles to carry them as “Dragon” is by far the weakest of the S. S. Van Dine stories. Margaret Lindsay has the fattest role in the film but it really doesn’t matter.

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