This second film version of Elmer Rice's play On Trial stars Edward Norris as a green lawyer on his first case. He is assigned to defend alleged killer John Litel, who makes Norris' job doubly hard by refusing to defend himself. Through flashbacks, Norris discovers the reason behind Litel's recalcitrance. The young attorney also reunites the convicted man with his missing wife (Margaret Lindsay) and his little daughter (Janet Chapman). The original Broadway production of On Trial gained a near-legendary reputation through its ground breaking use of flashbacks and its surprise ending; these elements aren't quite as innovative in the film version, but they still retain their effectiveness.
by Hal Erickson synopsis