I'm trying to think of a film from the early classic period (silents thru to the end of the1930's) that show policemen as the main character and also shown in a positive light...but I really can't think of one off hand. I've always thought that the police (or police detectives) in films from this era were basically ineffective buffoons. I guess the stereotype started during the silent era thanks to the comedy shorts of The Keystone Kops. Buster Keaton exploited this theme too in his 1922 classic short, COPS. The gangster pictures of the 1930's would usher in the likes of James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, George Raft and Humphrey Bogart - bad guys as anti-heros. Hmmm...I just thought of Dick Tracy - but I doubt if any of the Dick Tracy films ever reached the popularity of the likes of the Warner Brother's gangster films though...
ALIBI is an early talkie which basically paints the police just as morally bankrupt as the crooks they are trying to apprehend. It seems they have no qualms in framing someone or planting false evidence if the ends justify the means. The bad guy in question here is gangster Chick Williams (Chester Morris). Not soon after Chick is paroled that a warehouse is broken into and robbed. During the break-in, a beat cop is shot and killed. The police suspects that Chick has something to do with it...but Chick has a seemingly airtight alibi - he was at the dance theater with his date, Joan Manning (Eleanor Griffith) during the time of the break-in. Joan happens to be the daughter of one police Sergeant Pete Manning (Purnell Pratt) who happens to be Chick's main accuser. How did the daughter of a police sergeant become involved with a gangster? Well...Joan doesn't have very high opinion of cops. Yep...she thinks cops are corrupt too as she bluntly points out to her irate father when he finds out she had been out on the town with the hood. Sergeant Manning would prefer his daughter marry someone nice, like police Detective Tommy Glennon (Pat O'Malley), whose previous proposals for marriage had been rebuffed by the reluctant Joan.
"I've had enough of being a policeman's daughter", she tells Glennon..."and I don't want to be a policeman's wife".
Actor Regis Toomey also has a prominent role as undercover police detective Danny McGann, trying to infiltrate Chick's gang. He pretends to be drunk throughout most of the film which can wear on you after awhile. There is a prolonged scene near the end of the film involving his character accompanied by the background strains of "Aloha Oe" which I will forgive only because of the experimental nature of sound...but I will understand if you roll your eyes during that part.
Yeah...the story plays out very much like the pulp detective fiction of the era and is dated in that regards. You'll enjoy this if you just go with the flow of things and not be too critical of the film's crude technical aspects. Not so with the artistic aspects, though. The visuals, especially early in the film seems to have been influenced by the expressionistic films from Germany. I also like the liberal use of close-ups. Director Roland West not shy with having his camera up close to the actor's faces.
I've enjoyed Chester Morris in the few films I've seen him in. I especially liked him in the 1936 version of THREE GODFATHERS. He was nominated for Best Actor by the Academy Awards for ALIBI but never really made it big until the 1940's with his Boston Blackie series of films - which I have yet to see but will now try to watch out for.
The dialogue was at times difficult to make out because of the scratchy soundtrack. You can tell what a novelty sound must have been with the way it is employed in this film. Things like the tapping of a policeman's baton on a wall...the clanging of a bell... or the chirping of a canary were new things to experience for the audience of the time. Things we very much take for granted now. It's funny how these early talkies always seem to showcase high-kicking chorus girls too.