Third Degree (1919)

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Rich college student Howard Jeffries, Jr. (Gladden James) falls in love with waitress Annie Sands (Alice Joyce). They get married, and Howard brings his new wife home to his father (Anders Randolph) and stepmother (Hedda Hopper). Neither of them is thrilled with Annie, although Mrs. Jeffries, Sr., has little room to talk -- she had a clandestine affair with her stepson's college friend, Robert Underwood (Herbert Evans). Nevertheless, the son is disinherited, and the young couple has to find another living situation. Underwood, in financial difficulties, writes to the elder Mrs. Jeffries, threatening suicide unless she gives him money. The frightened woman goes over to his apartment, but refuses to give him anything. Howard Jr., has also gone over there, to ask repayment of a loan, but he has had a few drinks and passed out. So he misses seeing his stepmother, and also sleeps through Underwood's subsequent suicide. He wakes up to find the body and a murder rap against him. The police take him into custody and give him "the third degree" until he admits to the crime, for which he is not responsible. His father refuses to help him, but Annie manages to get the family lawyer to represent him. It looks hopeless, however, until the conscience-stricken stepmother comes through with the letter. All that's left is to find out who the woman was that was visiting Underwood right before his death. To save the senior Mrs. Jeffries, Annie risks her reputation by saying it was her. Naturally, this earns the undying gratitude of the stepmother, and after Howard is acquitted, the older couple welcomes the son and his wife back into the fold. This film was based on a stage play of the same name by Charles Klein, who also wrote The Lion and the Mouse. Future gossip columnist Hedda Hopper was still new enough of an actress here that the name of her husband, famous stage performer De Wolf Hopper, was used to promote her role.