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The Judge Steps Out

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The Judge Steps Out starring Alexander Knox, Ann Sothern
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The Judge Steps Out (1948) starring Alexander Knox, Ann Sothern

Review of The Judge Steps Out

The Judge Steps Out is a surprisingly enjoyable drama.  A probate court judge (Alexander Knox) is comfortable with his lot in life – but his wife isn’t.  She’s far more worried about what “her friends will think” than about her husband.  She’s focused on society and position, and their daughter’s upcoming marriage.

And after the daughter’s marriage, the judge has to rule on a difficult custody case.  And he has strong doubts about his life, his career, and his marriage.  Is this where he wants to be?  Is this all life offers him?  An encounter with a doctor leads to an innocent fishing trip …

And since the absent-minded judge has failed to notify his wife, he’s presumed missing – or worse.  When he comes home, he overhears his “distraught” wife playing cards with her friends.  And he feels unneeded and unloved.  And he leaves again and starts wandering aimlessly.

He ends up in California, where he’s wrongly accused of stealing money from a roadside diner.  And begins working as a short order cook for the owner, Ann Sothern.  And begins to feel needed again – and loved.  Ann Sothern’s character wants to adopt a young girl, reminding him of his big case.  And planting the seeds of doubt.  The law was served in his case; but was justice?

As I say, The Judge Steps Out is a very well-done drama, with a surprising ending.  The Judge returns home, to find his wife a changed woman.  And he faces a huge decision, with his law clerk and friend making a point he can’t ignore.  Highly recommended!

Cast of characters in The Judge Steps Out

  • Judge Thomas Bailey (Alexander KnoxWilson).  The title character, who goes on a quest to “find himself”.  And falls in love with a beautiful young woman along the way.  And he has to decide between love and responsibility.  An excellent acting performance.
  • Peggy (Ann SothernMaisie).  The pretty young diner owner, who initially thinks that Tom has stolen five dollars from her till.  But covers for him anyway, out of compassion.  She offers him a job as a short-order cook at her diner.  He’s happy there for the first time in a long time.  Until it’s revealed that Peggy’s divorced from an alcoholic husband.  And she wants to adopt a young orphan named Nan — who’s the age that Peggy’s child would have been.
  • Mike (George TobiasBetween Two Worlds).  The man who initially accuses Tom of stealing from the diner – and becomes his friend later on.
  • Chita (Florence BatesOn the Town).  A wiser, older woman that works for Peggy, and serves as her friend and adviser.  Very well done.
  • Evelyn Bailey (Frieda InescortThe Alligator People).  Initially, a two-dimensional character – a social climber who cares about her position, and little else.  But after Tom’s return, she reveals herself to be more.  As Tom says, at this point they’re better friends now than ever before.  And when he returns, he meets his grandchild for the first time …
  • Hector Brown (Ian WolfeBedlam).  Tom’s law clerk friend, and later on, the voice of his conscience.  A secondary, but essential, character, well acted.
  • Dr. Charles Boyd (Whitford KaneThe Adventures of Mark Twain).  The country doctor who diagnoses Tom as suffering from “inflammation of the family”.  And on his way to an ulcer.  And innocently suggests a three-day fishing trip …

Editorial review of The Judge Steps Out courtesy of

Boston judge Tom Bailey (Alexander Knox) has position, security and a lovely home on Beacon Hill. He also has a disagreeable wife, a selfish daughter and a nagging suspicion that somehow his life has gone terribly wrong. Then one day Bailey falls ill and gets a diagnosis from a no-nonsense doctor: he’s suffering from “inflammation of the family.” A few weeks later, the judge is serving up a plate of Adam and Eve on a raft at a California diner run by a warm-hearted blonde (Ann Sothern). He’s lost position, security and that Beacon Hill home. He’s found happiness. Can he keep it? Wry and romantic, The Judge Steps Out is a lovingly polished gem that speaks to anyone who’s ever heard the siren call of a second chance.

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