Hungarian director Michael Curtiz made his American film bow with the highly stylized crime melodrama The Third Degree. Set against the backdrop of Coney Island, the story concerns a young couple, Annie Daly (Dolores Costello) and Howard Jeffries Jr. (Jason Robards Sr.). She's a working-class girl, he's the son of a wealthy family. Disinherited by his father, Howard finds himself the prime suspect when the old man is murdered. The hapless hero is strong-armed into a confession by the overzealous police, but eventually the truth is revealed, and the lovers are free to marry. Admittedly trying to impress his new employers at Warner Bros. with his cinematic know-how, Curtiz adopted a bizarre, expressionistic style that out-Caligaried Caligari; his camera pyrotechnics are particularly prevalent in a "subjective" sequence involving a dangerous carnival attraction. In fact, Curtiz spent so much time with offbeat camera angles and bizarre compositions that he nearly forgot to tell the story! Once he got all this gimmickry out of his system, however, Michael Curtiz settled down to become one of Warners' most prolific and dependable commercial filmmakers, remaining a fixture at the studio until 1950.
by Hal Erickson synopsis