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Day of Reckoning (1933) Online

Day of Reckoning (1933) Online
Original Title :
Day of Reckoning
Genre :
Movie / Drama
Year :
Directror :
Charles Brabin
Cast :
Richard Dix,Madge Evans,Conway Tearle
Writer :
Zelda Sears,Eve Greene
Type :
Time :
1h 9min
Rating :
Day of Reckoning (1933) Online

In this brutal prison drama a hen-pecked husband is sentenced to prison after getting caught with his hand in the company till. He is sent to a high-rise facility in LA. It seems the fellow was only following the instructions of his domineering, constantly nagging wife who, as soon as he is put away, takes up with a more successful businessman. This causes her new lover's ex-lover to get insanely jealous and kill the conniving wife.
Complete credited cast:
Richard Dix Richard Dix - John Day
Madge Evans Madge Evans - Dorothy Day
Conway Tearle Conway Tearle - George Hollins
Una Merkel Una Merkel - Mamie
Stuart Erwin Stuart Erwin - Jerry
George 'Spanky' McFarland George 'Spanky' McFarland - Johnny Day (as Spanky McFarlane)
Isabel Jewell Isabel Jewell - Kate Lovett
James Bell James Bell - Slim
Raymond Hatton Raymond Hatton - Hart
Paul Hurst Paul Hurst - Harry
John Larkin John Larkin - Abraham
Wilfred Lucas Wilfred Lucas - Guard
Samuel S. Hinds Samuel S. Hinds - O'Farrell (as Samuel Hinds)

Althought the onscreen credits specify the source material as "from the novel by Morris Lavine," no such novel has been found. It is likely the novel was never published.

Genevieve Tobin was listed in the Hollywood Reporter as a cast member, but she was not seen in the film.

The only film Richard Dix made at MGM. He was under contract to RKO at the time.

MGM wanted Richard Barthelmess for the lead, but his salary demands were too high.

The bill for $32.35 presented by the milkman would equate to $632 in 2019.

The second film for George 'Spanky' McFarland where he doesn't play the character of "Spanky".

This film's earliest documented telecasts took place in Altoona PA Tuesday 7 May 1957 on WFBG (Channel 10), and in Salt Lake City Wednesday 15 May 1957 on KTVT (Channel 4). Doomed by its age, obscurity, a cast of mostly forgotten players, and a pre-code story that was already long out of date, it was eschewed by the major markets, and only occasionally taken off the shelf in less predominant locations where its short running time filled the need of cannon fodder for insatiable early and late show mid-week time slots. It first aired in Tucson 27 August 1957 on KVOA (Channel 4), in Portland OR 31 December 1957 on KGW (Channel 8), in Miami 23 January 1958 on WCKT (Channel 7), in Charlotte NC 18 February 1958 on WBTV (Channel 3), in Honolulu 8 March 1958 on KHVH (Channel 13), in Norfolk VA 18 July 1958 on WTAR (Channel 3), in Kalamazoo 30 August 1958 on WKZO (Channel 3), in Tampa 1 October 1958 on WFLA (Channel 8), in Philadelphia 23 October 1958 on the All Night Movies on WFIL (Channel 6), and in Windsor ON 20 May 1959 on CKLW (Channel 9) (serving Detroit). Today it's in the vaults of Turner Classic Movies and is occasionally taken out for an airing on cable TV on TCM, much to the gratitude of a new legion of vintage film enthusiasts who appreciate the opportunity to take a fresh look at it.

User reviews



A young husband has his DAY OF RECKONING when he's sent to prison for embezzlement.

Fine performances raise what is essentially a soap opera above its material and provides some dandy entertainment along the way. While the subplots grow a little thick, all is resolved in time for an idyllic, if somewhat bittersweet, ending.

Leading man Richard Dix sheds his usual in-charge persona for a much more vulnerable characterization. Although they share few scenes, he is given firm support by perky Una Merkel playing his devoted Southern maid. She easily upstages pretty Madge Evans as Dix's conflicted wife. Stalwart Stuart Erwin plays the friendly milkman in love with Merkel.

Some fine character actors do quite well in smaller roles. Conway Tearle is the family friend who takes advantage of Dix's absence. Isabel Jewell is properly distraught as Tearle's former mistress. Raymond Hatton is effective as a prison trustee who befriends Dix. James Bell is noteworthy as a prisoner driven crazy by worry over his wife's supposed infidelity. Samuel S. Hinds manages to become suitably repellent in his brief screen time as a crooked lawyer. Tiny Spanky McFarland, of OUR GANG fame, turns on the charm as Dix's infant son.

Movie mavens will recognize an unbilled Clarence Wilson as a bail bondsman.


Una Merkel shines in her 13th film of 1933

A terrific film. At times it is even a beautiful film, with touches of special effects (slo-mo, and super-impositions) towards the end. The "natural" quality of Una Merkel shines above her casting as the maid, and brings a real human touch to a film about infidelity, jail and murder. She holds it's "B" plot together and adds real warmth and charm, especially in the scenes with the children. (The boy is none other than Spanky McFarland!)

There are scenes where the younger child, around 1 year old, is really fidgeting and squirming. Miss Merkel uses the interruption and pushes forward in the scene in the most natural way. Purely charming. Check out her credits, she did a staggering amount of work in the 30's and should get more recognition.

Director Charles Brabin shines in this unusually inventive film, (especially for the year 1933, when most other films were all sound stage stiff pot-boilers). This little gem has many location shots, (including a very realistic rooftop fight scene high above downtown Los Angeles) and features a broad range of emotion from subtle comedy to raw violence.

Check it out, you won't be sorry.


This is actually quite an interesting little film. It strongly resembles something of a 'take' on Madame Bovery as seen from the perspective of Charles Bovery, in the context of The Great Depression and unrestricted by the enforcement of the dreaded 'Hayes Code'.

Madge Evens (Dorothy Day) is a middle class woman with two children, a full time maid (Una Merkel) and a sense of entitlement which includes comfort, luxury and material wealth to the extent where she can flaunt it to establish a prestigious place in society (her 'friends'compliment her on being able to 'manage' with only one servant). Husband Richard Dix (John Day), has been caught fudging his accounts at work to keep up with his wife's demands and is arrested. Veteran villain Conway Tearle(Hollins), who has a yen for Dorothy, arranges for a lawyer who sabotages the defense. John gets ten years probation with two years in the LA County Jail, high atop the County building, all the better for Hollens to work his way to get on top of Dorothy. Dorothy has to get a 'job' with Hollins and in one significant incident, after the family's Ford is repossessed, she drives up in Hollins' 'spare' Packard roadster. The children have been literally farmed out to her maid and her maid's sweetie, Stew Erwin, the milkman. Dorothy eventually replaces Hollins' secretary as his main squeeze and when she protests is fired. The secretary shows up at Hollins' hideaway penthouse and shoots Dorothy dead. John is devastated by the news and when he learns that Hollins has been sent to the County Jail he searches him out sunbathing on the roof. Hollins sees John coming and leaps at him and they fight near the parapet. Trying to get away from him Hollins goes over the parapet but John follows him and they fight. John slides down just holding on to the gutter while Hollins, holding on to the bars of a window tries to step on his fingers. Hart (!) (Raymond Hatton who steals the movie) John's prison trustee friend hits Hollins' hand with a crutch and Hollins loses his grip and falls to the pavement far below.

First of all, it is interesting to note that pre-code Richard Dix actually committed a crime, much like Charles Bovery really incompetently botched the operation which causes his, and Emma's, downfall. Dorothy willingly becomes Hollins' mistress for the luxury while her husband is in jail. Even though Day was clearly murderous in his intent and his actions directly lead to Hollins' death he goes unpunished. Hart, who actually caused Hollen's death is told that he's in a lot of trouble but he laughs it off saying 'second degree manslaughter and nothing more' the funniest line in the picture. Hollins, who didn't actually kill Day's wife, dies anyway. After the code an extra ten minutes would have been added to the plot to show that the protagonist had been innocent and was framed, usually by the villain. The wife's being killed by a jealous ex-lover would become dying defending her honor. The villain's own guilty conscience would have lead to his death from a fatal accident. With all of this social manoeuvering a crisp 67 minute running time would have been diverted into a 1:20+ of orotund moralizing.

There was a clear social message on display. DAY OF RECKONING was made at the height of the depression and there was some self congratulatory self-righteousness that the vanity and greed of the middle classes might have landed them into the hands of shame, incarceration, adultery and death, they, the salt of the earth, the honest and modest working people, who were upright and hard working, would inherit the earth. Sort of a variation on the old "You may tempt the upper classes/With your villainous demitasses,/But Heaven will protect the working girl." People were in constant need of reassurance of the ultimate virtue of 'poor but honest' over 'well-to-do and pretentious'.

The profession of milkman, now extinct, was an interesting one. First of all milkmen were completely garbed in pure white. Secondly it was a working class profession which survived the depression. Everyone needed milk. Hard working milkmen didn't lose their jobs and it was a job on the fringe of being a small time entrepreneur. Milkmen could increase their earnings by selling more milk.

The picture ends with a remarkable sequence. There is a shot of a jail hallway, with a row of barred cells on the right, streaks of shadows on the left setting up strong converging lines which end at a barred jail door. Slowly the shot is superimposed over a shot of aspens against the sky moving in a breeze. The silhouetted figure of a man in uniform appears in slow motion on the other side of the door seeming to lean over perhaps to put a key in the lock. The jail image fades out and is replaced by just the trees and sky. This is followed by a shot of a figure in white at the top of a lawn, her dress billowing in the wind, smaller figures around her, a white clapboard house at the top of the grade and surrounded by bowers of trees at the edges, out of focus in an effect known as vignetting. This recalls the photographic style called pictoralism. Some of these photographers later went into the movies one of whom, Hendrik Sartov, was famous for his one element lens which became a mainstay of D.W. Griffith. A closer shot reveals that the woman in white is Una Merkel with two small children and a dog. John is being driven towards them by the milkman in his horse drawn wagon.

One of the reactions to the depression was patriotic historicism and there was revival of interest in the past which included the myth of the agrarian paradise. The master of this myth was Griffith so this is a most Griffithsonian ending.


....but she just didn't have it in her to play an unlikeable character. Madge had made some movies as a child during World War 1 but when she returned to acting in the early 30s, it was as a protégé of Irving Thalberg, who really believed in her ability. Her biggest asset was her niceness and sorry, she just didn't convince in this movie as the neglectful mother who wants luxury at any cost. Helen Vinson or Astrid Allwyn would have been better choices. There was a real trend in the early thirties toward films that showed the consequences of not being happy with the simple things in life and of not living within your means eg "Extravagance" (1930), coinciding with the depression and bread lines. "Day of Reckoning" joined the long list - the difference was that MGM gave it classy production values.

An elegant birthday party is in progress but all is not well in the Day home - the milkman (Stuart Erwin) is after his bill for $32 - no more milk unless he is paid, are his orders. Poor John Day (dependable Richard Dix) is up to his neck in debts, due to his wife's extravagance and poor Mamie, the maid (Una Merkel) is up to her neck in work. Two men from the Justice Dept. arrive to take John to prison - he has been embezzling funds to keep Dorothy (Madge Evans) in the lifestyle she has become accustomed to. In desperation Dorothy turns to an old family friend, George Hollins (Conway Tearle) for help. He has always carried a torch for Dorothy and sees this as a way to realise his dreams. He arranges for John's attorney to "lose" the case and John gets two years. Dorothy is distraught but with John out of the way, she soon succumbs to the life of ease and luxury Hollins is eager to give her. Standing in the way of their happiness is Kate (Isabel Jewel), Hollin's discarded mistress and her actions bring the film to a gripping climax and bring John face to face with life's unpleasant realities.

The one constant ray of hope in this movie is Una Merkel. Everyone here has praised her to the skies and they are right. She is the true star of this movie as the sensible maid of all work who takes on the job of bringing up the two children when no-one else seems interested. She even brings them on a clandestine visit to the prison when Dorothy is off enjoying herself. Did Dorothy actually realise that she had two children - maybe the script writers forgot to tell her. I never saw her with them in the movie - sorry, a scene at the very beginning when she had them woken up to come down to John's birthday party. One of them was played by "Our Gang"'s "Spanky" McFarlane - he even utters his catchphrase "Okey Dokey".

Isabel Jewel, one of the most under-rated of all actresses, as usual excels in her brief role as the hysterical mistress. She was an actress who, no matter how small the role, just never held back and in this movie she had a couple of scenes in which she emoted for all she was worth. Her first scene is a close up of her face and the audience realise that she is not going to nobly step aside.

Highly Recommended.


Day of Reckoning (1933)

*** (out of 4)

Highly entertaining pre-code from MGM about a loving husband (Richard Dix) who embezzles some money in order to keep his shop-happy wife (Madge Evans) into the things she needs. The husband gets sent away for two years and while the maid (Una Merkel) is busy taking care of the two kids, the wife is out doing other things. There's a lot more details to the plot but I'm going to quit there because the twists are so good that there's really no point in ruining them for those unfamiliar with the picture. It's always great fun when a film buff can see a forgotten movie and then go out and sing its praises and DAY OF RECKONING is just the type of film that deserves to be rediscovered. I'm sure most people are familiar with the always fun Dix but this here is without question one of the best performances I've seen from him. This character goes through quite a bit in the picture and I thought Dix was incredibly sympathetic but when he "snaps" you can believe and see the rage and anger in his eyes. Evans is also extremely entertaining as the wife and there's no question that Conway Tearle makes for a great villain. Merkel steals nearly every scenes she's in as the loving maid and manages to bring some laughs. Classic film fans will also recognize Raymond Hatton, Paul Hurst, George 'Spanky' McFarland and D.W. Griffith regular Wilfred Lucas can be briefly spotted. The screenplay certainly doesn't fall into the "B" movie traps and instead it stays original throughout and manages to throw a couple nice twists at the viewer as well. One of the best moments in the film is when the maid and her boyfriend are trying to write a letter and there's a baby in the sequence. It appears the baby is acting up and not really behaving like she's supposed to but it's rather cute seeing that the director just let it go and had the actors deal with it the best way that they could. DAY OF RECKONING is one of hundreds of films that have been forgotten but if you're a fan of classic dramas then it's a must see.


The strong cast -- including Spanky McFarland away from the Hal Roach studio -- really shines in this well-mannered, but definitely Pre-code drama. Richard Dix ha rarely been better as a man slowly unraveling in prison, but Una Merkel is terrific in a straight role.


Richard Dix as wealthy John Day is celebrating his birthday with his wife Dorothy (Madge Evans) and their friends. But there is trouble brewing. In the opening scene the milkman (Stuart Erwin as Jerry) has been instructed not to give the Days any more milk until the bill is paid up, which Dorothy makes excuses for, yet she still manages to keep a recently purchased expensive evening gown. The cops break up the celebration and arrest John for embezzlement, which he minimizes as just some kind of misunderstanding. It is - other people don't seem to understand that John has taken to "borrowing" money that is not his to satisfy his wife's expensive tastes.

The Days soon find out who their friends are as John doesn't even have the money to make bail. The only person who will help them is Hollins (Conway Tearle). However, his motivation is to keep John in jail so he can have his way with John's beautiful wife. He pays off a crooked lawyer to do just a bad enough job that John gets two years in the county jail when normally he would have gotten probation.

Dorothy talks the talk of the loyal wife, but she likes Hollins' gifts. Two years gives Hollins just enough time for Dorothy to forget John, have his way with her for awhile, and then discard her. However, Hollins' plot is not foolproof. You see, he has a recently discarded mistress, she does not like being replaced by Dorothy, plus she apparently has access to firearms. I'll let you watch and see how this all works out.

This love quadrangle - John, Dorothy, Hollins, the discarded mistress - and the story behind somebody in jail who is loyal to John beyond reason (Raymond Hatton as Hart) would take at least 90 minutes to flesh out halfway properly, but this was probably a second bill film so 68 minutes is all we are allowed. As a result, I felt like I had really been rushed through a story I didn't truly understand.

Now for the bright side - Una Merkel as Mamie, the Days' loyal servant, who somehow manages to keep everything going for the Days' two very small children, nursing them in sickness, and even bringing them to the yard in front of the jail so John can see his children. She is much more of a mom to these kids than their actual mother. Then there is the sweet romance that brews between Mamie and Jerry the milkman. You know how Jerry feels upfront, but you are not sure just how serious Mamie is until the very end. In this film that is a sea of characters who have bad intentions or at least bad actions, Mamie and Jerry are a breath of fresh air and actually take up more screen time than Richard Dix gets.

I'd recommend it, but just remember this little precode was probably never intended to be an A list film.


John Day (Richard Dix) has a pretty young wife (Madge Evans) who wants the finer things in life. He can't seem to say no to her so he embezzles money in order to support her expensive lifestyle. He gets caught and goes to jail, thanks in part to a crooked lawyer hired by George Hollins (Conway Tearle), a rich lecher who wants Day's wife. While in jail, Day's faithful maid and nanny (Una Merkel) lovingly takes care of his children while his wife is seduced by Hollins.

Entertaining melodrama with good performances by lantern-jawed Dix and the always adorable Una Merkel. There are several twists in the plot and not all of them are predictable. I especially enjoyed the climactic scene on the top of the county jail. Spanky from Our Gang plays one of the kids.


If you like Classic Films with great actors, try to catch this film on TV. Richard Dix(John Day),"The Secret of the Whistler,'46 was a man wrongfully accused and sent to prison, his wife (Madge Evans), "Army Girl",'38 was fooling around and was killed and his children were left in the care of Una Merkel (Mamie),"SpinOut",'66,who talks with a very high pitched voice and very dippy. Una Merkel was a film actress from the early 20's, 30's and 40's and could play any role she was offered to perfection. There are actual outdoor scenes of John Day fighting above the streets of Los Angeles on roof tops and lots of model T Fords running all around throughout the city. If you look close, you will see a great film actor when he was young, Raymond Hatten (Hart) who appeared in 349 films, one "Shake, Rattle & Rock" '56. Samuel S. Hines,(O'Farrell),"Bed of Roses", who also appeared in many great Classic films, appeared in 210 films. If you love Richard Dix as the "Whistler" on Radio and TV, this is your kind of movie.


Pretty good melodrama. Interesting plot, convincing performances from the four main characters, and divergent settings contribute to an entertaining movie. It helps that John's (Richard Dix's) crime happens near the beginning, and off-screen as well. Clearly, it's more important that we have the domestic scenes, not only wih John and his wife Dorothy (Madge Evans), but also that of the parallel couple, the maid Mamie (Una Merkel) and the milkman Jerry (Stewart Erwin). Everything's disrupted by John going off to jail; leaving the door open for the wealthy interloper George (Conway Tearle).

There's poetic justice coming though. George's fooling with Dorothy leads to his landing in the same jail as John, after Kate (Isabel Jewell), George's ex-girlfriend, dispatches Dorothy in a jealous rage. Actually, I can't figure how all that gets George in trouble, but ok...Anyway, it doesn't take long before John and George have it out in a literally over-the-top scene. The good guys indeed triumph. Meanwhile, the other set of good guys get together--Mamie and Jerry becoming pretty much surrogate parents to John's kids after their mom's murder.

Other reviewers point out the dignity of the ordinary American theme exemplified by Jerry and Mamie. There's nothing not to like about them, and their genuine goodness is presented so well that there's nothing sappy about it. The same could be said for that other parallel society: the prison inmates. With some believable rough edges, those guys more or less realize they're all in the same boat, and deal fairly with each other. This is one movie where even the jailers are presented sympathetically. The jail culture reminds me of the camaraderie shown amongst soldiers in war movies. In fact, the music and dance scene--by contrast with what's going on 'outside'--looks like good fun.

Although Dorothy is plainly hedonistic, and Kate's selfish and vindictive, George is the worst bad guy here. If George hadn't sent the incompetent attorney to represent John, he might not have gone to jaill in the first place. And, more importantly, if he'd kept his hands off of Dorothy, Kate wouldn't have messed with her, at least not beyond the sniping at the office.

Day of Reckoning hardly seems dated. The themes of greed, lust, and betrayal, so accurately built into the characters, won't wear out. Success here is achieved by being a decent person, not by mere wealth or status. Even though there's definitely a happy ending, we see that Jerry could've lost Mamie to John, but Jerry would be okay with that; and, as Mamie sticks with Jerry after all, John's okay with that too. No one's guaranteed to get exactly what they want, but everyone's satisfied with what they have.


Richard Dix's whole universe is turned upside down in this pre-Code drama Day Of Reckoning. Wife Madge Evans is a good soul, but a spendthrift and Dix's gets caught for embezzling company funds and gets two years of county time for the deed.

That's enough time villain Conway Tearle figures he has to move in on Madge Evans. He's a friend and neighbor of Dix whose hormones have been pining away for Evans for some time. Tearle even pays for Samuel S. Hinds to be Dix's lawyer to throw the case. And Hinds in his couple of scenes stands out.

Providing a bit of comic relief and stalwart support for Dix and Evans are maid Una Merkel and her boyfriend the milkman Stu Erwin. Isabell Jewell as Tearle's mistress whom he throws over for Evans has some real bite in her scenes.

Life does take a funny old bounce as Tearle and Dix are together for a really thrilling climax. Day Of Reckoning is something these two most definitely have.

As for the film, a bit melodramatic, but the ensemble cast really delivers in this one.