Alibi

A Best Picture nominee at the second Academy Awards, Alibi (1929) was the first movie to bridge the German expressionist style of the '20s with the American gangster melodrama, predating more popular genre entries such as The Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932). Since it was an early talkie (a silent version was released simultaneously), this reissue suffers from a few sound drop-offs and other distortions, but Alibi's twisty, suspenseful story and striking funhouse imagery still make it look like a lost classic. Chester Morris stars as a charismatic low-level hoodlum who rejoins the mob after he's released from prison and courts the police chief's rebellious daughter (Mae Busch). When a guard is murdered during a botched robbery, Morris is the first to fall under suspicion, and the detective squad uses questionable tactics to pinch his supposed alibis and snare him. Director Roland West (The Bat) takes a dim view of cops and crooks alike, drawing few distinctions between the prison lines of one world and the kick lines of another. With its long shadows, single-source lighting effects, and bizarre Art Deco sets (by the great William Cameron Menzies, who later directed the visionary Things To Come), Alibi effectively undercuts the glamorous mystique of The Roaring '20s. Morris' unstable screen presence, a volatile mix of cool charm and explosive fits of violence, keeps the conclusion in doubt and predicts the arrival of the noir anti-hero.

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