Though made in 1951, Criminal Lawyer has the feel of a 1930s film, right down to the casting of Pat O'Brien in the lead. The star plays attorney James Regan, whose unethical methods have earned him the disdain of the American Bar Association. Eventually, Regan is even disgusted with himself, and accordingly crawls into a liquor bottle. Redeemed by the love of girl-Friday Maggie Powell (Jane Wyatt), Regan tackles a difficult make-or-break case which comprises the film's tense denouement. Critics in 1951 were impressed by the subtle performance by brutish Mike Mazurki as Regan's bodyguard; few of them were aware that the college-educated Mazurki was a sensitive, highly intelligent performer who was not at all like the thugs and pluguglies he played on screen.