The Woman Accused (1933)

Proof That It’s Pre-Code:

  • Someone gets murdered and someone gets away with it, even though she is accused. You may say that I’m spoiling the movie already, but, come on, it’s not called The Woman Convicted, now is it?
  • Unapologetically decadent. Lavish parties, penthouse suites, and a huge cruise ship with a boat on board and everything. Man, I didn’t even know there were cruise ships in the 30’s.
  • The mobsters and the police are closely knit, though this may be because the police seem to just be a gaggle of morons.
  • One fellow jokes: “A beautiful girl is supposed to be suing a banker for three million dollars. The real trick is finding a banker with any money!”
  • Man forgives his future wife for previously living with a man.
  • On a woman and a man left in a room alone together: “The way things are going nowadays, you don’t know who’s going to scream first!”

The Woman Accused is a murder mystery where we know the murderer. I.E. said woman. She’s cornered by an old flame who knows how to push her buttons, and finds a big red one where her new fiance is concerned. He calls up a hitman to do away with the new fiance, and, with a scream and a surge of anger, our old flame is dead.

Glenda is in shock about her own new found strength; who knew a society belle had the ability to murder someone? It wasn’t self defense, per se, but she was committing a murder to stop a murder. Morally, that should cover some bases, right?

In reading up on the Production Code (and, trust me, I still have a lot more to do), I came across one quote that summarized an article in The Nation denouncing some of the requirements of the Code, rallying against the idea that robbing film criminals of their ability to be portrayed in a sympathetic would mean that “law and justice” in films would become the same thing.

Is murder a dirty word?

As a culture, it’s hard to argue that the perception doesn’t persist. While we get films that dote on the criminal with the heart of gold, rarely are these the hardened career criminals and murderers like you’d find in the Warner Brothers gangster pictures of the 30’s. The bad guys nowadays still have a minimum height of good before getting onto the ride.

The Woman Accused doesn’t directly linger on the culpability of a murderer, but it reveals a moral relativity that sounds good on paper. The life of a mob boss is worth less than that of a good man. Watch any movie made in the last 80 years: this hasn’t changed.

But I’m letting the movie get away from me. The Woman Accused unfolds mostly in real time, saving us some transitions but keeping Glenda’s recent deed on the forefront of her every action. Her darling new fiance is Cary Grant, still in his serious acting days and a touch better here than in Born to be Bad. He’s planning on taking her on a cruise, and gives her a little bit to prepare.

It’s at this point that Glenda gets called upstairs, as her old flame has not only returned from Europe but has generously moved in right above her. Nancy Carroll plays Glenda with big doe eyes, but when she loses control and hits the man over the head, her flash of anger works. The director Paul Sloane does something interesting with the murder itself, allowing it to be off center, as she hits him just off screen, illustrating how Glenda has lost control to the point that the camera doesn’t even know what’s coming next.

The rest of the film can’t really live up to its opening, as Glenda is whisked off to the cruise, and the police are called in by the corpse’s friend. The police suspect Glenda but let her go on with her cruise– no need to bring her in quite yet, she is rich and white– while the accuser goes on the boat, determined to bring her down.

Come on, baby, I’m Cary Grant! I can get you out of this!

The end of this film is unbearably silly. There’s a mock trial put on by the accuser that’s so convoluted that I’m sure that any writer attempting this in a novel nowadays would be laughed out of the room. The accuser slowly morphs the mock trial into one using the circumstances and Glenda, cornered, fesses up to the whole thing. The rest deals with just how much punishment a murderer of a murderer deserves: believe it or not, it ain’t much.

Nowadays, there’s nothing much stopping The Woman Accused from being a hoary relic. Besides bits of flair that have gone severely out of style– the movie opens with credits for “The Man”, “The Woman” and “The Accuser”, after all– and while there are a few thrills, the leaden second and third act detract from them severely. Nowadays this is just the type of movie they make TV shows out of.


Danny lives outside Tokyo, Japan, with his lovely wife, adorable daughter, and two yappy dogs. He blogs bi-weekly at, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934, and can be found on Twitter @PreCodeDotCom.

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