I have a weakness for any movie starring John Wayne- even the bad ones. If you can find something of merit in "The Conqueror", in which the Duke played Genghis Khan, then you've really crossed the Rubicon. "A Man Betrayed", made during Wayne's tenure with "B" movie studio Republic, has been released on Blu-ray by Olive Films. It isn't one of those aforementioned bad Wayne movies, but it's no more than a minor entry in his career. Wayne had been toiling in the film industry since the silent era. His first big break came with the starring role in Raoul Walsh's massive western epic "The Big Trail", which was released in 1930. However, the film was released during the Great Depression and bombed at the boxoffice. For the next nine years, Wayne was starring in quickie westerns that were termed "One Day Wonders". John Ford came to his rescue by casting Wayne as the male lead in his 1939 classic "Stagecoach". It elevated Wayne to star status but he didn't fully capitalize on the opportunities that "Stagecoach" seemed to afford him. He slogged through starring roles in largely undistinguished productions for many years, interrupted by a few more ambitious productions (Ford's "The Long Voyage Home" and "They Were Expendable" and DeMille's "Reap the Wild Wind"). It wouldn't be until the late 1940s that the plum roles finally came his way and Wayne was seen as something more than "B" actor. "A Man Betrayed", released in 1941, fits comfortably into the bulk of Wayne's work during this period of his career. It's a low-budget affair, unremarkable in every respect, but still reasonably entertaining.
The film opens in an unnamed city at a scandalous nightclub called Club Inferno, where all sorts of notorious practices take place. (The sign advertises "30 Girls and 29 Costumes!"). Inside, staff members dress as the Devil and exotic dance numbers take place amidst overt gambling. In the first scene, a young man stumbles outside the club and is seemingly electrocuted during a torrential rainstorm when the lamp post he is leaning on is struck by lightning. A closer examination, however, proves he had been shot. Shortly thereafter, we're introduced to Lynn Hollister (Wayne), an affable small town attorney who comes to the city to investigate the death of the young man, who was a close friend of his. In short order he arrives at the home of Tom Cameron (Edward Ellis), a local rich widower who lives in a mansion and who owns the Club Inferno (though is rarely seen there.) Turns out Cameron is the local crime kingpin who controls the political machine and employs an army of thugs and assassins to do his bidding. He presents an affable personality and pretends to cooperate with Lynn's investigation. Lynn meets cute with Cameron's daughter Sabra (Frances Dee), a frisky, witty beauty who takes to him immediately. Before long, Lynn is staying in the guest room and he and Sabra are a couple. Cameron tries to use the relationship to manipulate Lynn but the more Lynn probes into the murder, the more convinced he is that Cameron directly or indirectly was responsible. Cameron is about to run for re-election to political office and like all crooked elected officials, is impatient for Lynn to wrap up his investigation. However, Lynn has uncovered massive evidence of voter fraud with indigent men being paid to vote numerous times for the "right" candidates. As he gets closer to the truth he is also physically threatened by Cameron's thugs. All of this sounds very dramatic but, in fact, "A Man Betrayed" is actually a romantic comedy, with the exception of the dramatic murder scene. Director John H. Auer (who had directed another, unrelated film with the same title a few years before) keeps the mood light and pace fast and gets fine performances from Edward Ellis and Frances Dee, the latter especially good as the spoiled rich girl who learns the father she has idolized is, in fact, a crook. As for Wayne, he was somewhat victimized by studios who wanted to squeeze him into contemporary romances in the hopes he would emerge as the next Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper. But at this period in his career, Wayne looked like a fish out of water in such productions. He gamely goes through the motions but he appears to be a bit uncomfortable without a horse and saddle. As he matured, he got better, as evidenced by his fine work in "The Quiet Man" , his war-based films and his late career detective movies "McQ" and "Brannigan".
"A Man Betrayed" is fairly entertaining even by today's standards. It's a hoot seeing Frances Dee sporting the over-the-top high fashions of 1941 and there is a cryptic reference to the war in Europe months before anyone realized America would soon be part of it. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is the early teaming between Wayne and Ward Bond, who would become close friends and occasional co-stars. Bond is cast against type as a mentally-challenged violent thug who has a knock-down brawl with the Duke. The resolution of the murder and corruption scandals are wrapped up in a rather absurd ending that seems to have been developed to ensure that audiences left the theaters smiling.(Incidentally, the film was also later released under the title "Wheel of Fortune" and was marketed as "Citadel of Crime" in the UK.)
The Olive Films Blu-ray is unremarkable. The transfer is reasonably good but the film lacks any bonus extras.