erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 1930s posts

Thursday November 15, 2018

Movie Review: The St. Louis Kid (1934)

Patricia Ellis and James Cagney in "The St. Louis Kid"

Ellis and Cagney looking comfortable, despite the awkward math.

WARNING: SPOILERS

The movie is 67 minutes long and feels like it took 67 minutes to make.

It still has its charms. I like looking at the old gas stations and drug stores. The small-town magistrate is named Jeremiah Jones (Arthur Aylesworth), and for some reason his name is hyphenated on his office door: Jeremiah-Jones. Was that a thing? Meanwhile, with his cut-off shirt sleeves and old-time truckers/postman cap, Cagney looks like an early template for a rejected member of the Village People.

But at least he’s Cagney. He's got verve, energy, and a lightness in his step. Just don't expect “Angels with Dirty Faces.” Or even “Picture Snatcher.” 

Tit for tat
He plays Eddie Kennedy, a truck driver forever getting tossed into jail with or without his buddy, Buck (frequent Cagney foil Allen Jenkins). Generally: Buck starts a fight he can’t finish, Eddie can, Eddie winds up in jail for a night or so.

Question the movie never raises: Why does this always happen to them?

Answer: They’re sort of assholes. 

As the movie opens, Buck is bailing Eddie out again; then they drive their truck back to company HQ, but box in a guy in his car. He complains, they taunt him. Seems unnecessary but that’s what they do. Turns out the guy is their new boss, who now has it in for them, and gives them the route between St. Louis and Chicago. I guess it’s a bad route? Cubs fans on one side, Cards on the other.

And we‘re off and running. Outside the small town of Ostopolis, Eddie is forced to brake abruptly and they’re rammed by the car behind them, driven by feisty Ann Reid (Patricia Ellis, “Picture Snatcher). She gets mad, insults them, they do the same (Cagney with a leering grin). Then a would-be shining knight, Brown (Addison Richards), shows up, and it’s like with the boss all over again. He decks Buck, Eddie headbutts him, prison.

It turns out Brown works for a company that’s shortchanging dairy farmers, so Cagney concocts a story before the magistrate—also a dairy farmer—that that’s what the fight was about. Why, if he were a dairy farmer, Eddie says, he wouldn’t take any of that crap. Several things happen as a result of this story: 1) Eddie gets released; and 2) he inspires the dairy farmers to go on strike and set up blockades to prevent the trucking company from bringing in out-of-state milk. And one of those truckers is Eddie.

At the same time, Eddie is involved in a tit-for-tat battle with feisty Ann, who runs a diner in Ostopolis. Eddie insults her, she douses his ham and eggs with Tabasco sauce. He rams her delivery truck, she makes him pay for the wasted eggs. It's meet felonious.

Then it gets a little creepy. After he gets 10 days for a fight with a striking dairy farmer, Eddie slips out of his cell—it’s like Mayberry if Otis ran the jail—and confronts Ann at the diner as she’s closing up. She’s obviously afraid but he sticks around with his leering grin. It’s way creepier than the movie seems to realize. But they wind up a couple. Because Hollywood.

This is where the plot finally kicks in. To protect its trucks and profits, the company hires goons who threaten the striking farmers with guns. Then late one night, Farmer Benson (Robert Barrat) stands up to them. He’s shot and killed. Which is just when Ann drives by in her car after her first “date” with Eddie. The next morning, Ann is missing, her car is next to Benson’s body, and everyone knows she was out with Eddie—who had it in for the farmers. So the cops charge Eddie.

If this were a Paul Muni Warner Bros. movie, he’d get railroaded and it would end on a downtrodden downbeat note. But it’s Cagney, so he and his trucker pals find the real killer, free Ann, and suddenly he and Ann are signing a hotel register as Mr. and Mrs. Eddie Kennedy. But when the hotel clerk doubts their nuptials, both take offense, and both wind up behind bars. Buck says Eddie might get 10 years. Eddie wraps his arms around Ann and says, “Can you make it 20?” Fade.

Not a bad end to an otherwise lame movie. 

16 going on 17?
You know who impressed? Barrat as Farmer Benson. He has a slow dignity to him—like something out of a Dorthea Lange photograph. He was in everything from “The Life of Emile Zola” with Paul Muni to “Mr. Ed” on television. Plus seven Cagney pictures. He died in 1970 and is buried in Martinsburg, West Virginia, near where my mom lived.

And as good as Patricia Ellis is, as with “Picture Snatcher” there’s some awkward math there. According to IMDb, she was born in 1916, which means she was 18 at best during the making of this picture. (She was 17 at best, more likely 16, romancing Cagney in “Picture Snatcher.”) And while her contemporaries continued acting until the ’70s or ‘80s, her acting career was over by 1939 when she was 23. “I was just getting into a rut in Hollywood,” she’s been quoted as saying. “I want to start a new career—singing.” She did, for two years, then according to her obit in The New York Times, “gave up her career in 1941 when she was married to George T. O’Maley, now president of Protection Securities Systems, Inc., a subsidiary of Interstate Securities.” The obit is from 1970. She was 53. Cancer.

Or was she 51? Wikipedia says she was born in 1918, which makes the above math even more awkward.

Anyway, not much to “The St. Louis Kid.” Just history.

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Posted at 09:39 AM on Nov 15, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s
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Tuesday October 30, 2018

Movie Review: Hell's Kitchen (1939)

WARNING: SPOILERS

This was Warner Bros.’ third attempt to make this story in the '30s: first with James Cagney in ’33 (“The Mayor of Hell”); second with Humphrey Bogart in ’38 (“Crime School”); and here, in ’39, with Ronald Reagan.

Immediately you go: Wait, what? Cagney to Bogart to ... Reagan? Was Warners trying to make Reagan the next gangster hero or something?

Hell's Kitchen with Ronald Reagan reviewNah. The role Cagney and Bogart played (former tough kid from the neighborhood + social reformer + romantic lead) is broken into parts. The former tough kid is now Buck Caesar (longtime character actor Stanley Fields), who’s a kind of comic-relief Al Capone. The social reform is a necessity: Buck has to go straight and give back to the community or face eight years in the pen. Reagan just gets the romantic lead.

Actually, he’s not even that, since there’s no romance here. There’s just two good-looking people who could be romantic leads. If the story got around to it. But it doesn’t.

So what’s Reagan? He’s Buck’s college-educated nephew and mouthpiece. He’s second banana to the second banana.

I can’t help but think of Jack Warner’s famous line upon hearing Reagan was running for governor of California in 1966: “No, Jimmy Stewart for governor; Ronald Reagan for best friend.” In the 1980s, when this anecdote was constantly bandied about, I thought it meant Reagan was friendly or something. Nah. Warner was actually casting the damn thing. Stewart is your lead, he was saying. Reagan ain’t your lead. He’s never your lead. 

God, if only the rest of us had just listened to Jack Warner.

Street vs. white-collar
There’s actually a few differences between the Reagan versions and the other two—besides breaking the lead role into parts.

The Cagney/Bogart versions begin with the kids and the crimes that landed them in reform school. The star doesn’t show up until about 15-20 minutes in.

That’s reversed. We begin with Buck Caesar’s suspended sentence, his declaration before his gang to go straight, leading to objections and obvious future mutiny from his lieutenant, Mike Garvey (Frederic Tozere). Then Krispan (Grant Mitchell, quite good), the superintendent of Hudson School for Homeless Boys, comes hat-in-hand for a donation. He gets it—but more than he bargained for. Caesar’s nephew, Jim (Reagan), suggests Buck actually get involved in the school, since it’ll look good with the judge. He does. Which is a bummer for Krispan since Krispan’s corrupt as hell.

It’s funny when you think about it. Basically Al Capone joins him and Krispan’s reaction is, “Hey, I’m trying to break the law over here!” But that’s the ’30s Warner Bros. ethos. Street criminals have personality, and they’re the product of their environment. White-collar criminals? Those bland sons of bitches are just assholes. 

Now that I think about it, the stars of this one do show up 15-20 minutes in: the Dead End Kids. But unlike the earlier films, we never see the crimes they commit; they’re just in the reformatory. They roll out of the truck like the Marx brothers, then they’re beaten. Our sympathy is immediately with them.

They also have a leader now. Or was Billy Halop their leader in “Crime School”? I don’t remember him front and center so much—just angry that Bogart was schtupping his sister. But I guess that was his general role; gangleader. Oddly, his name doesn’t ring out for me like Leo Gorcey’s or Huntz Hall’s. Maybe because they had longer, more successful careers? Bowery Boys and such? I did see Halop regularly, though, even if I didn’t realize it: He played Munson, Archie’s taxicab boss, in “All in the Family." In 1976, aged 56, he died of a heart attack.

Margaret Lindsay as Beth gets the sob sister role, encouraging the boys toward self-government—Tony as mayor, Leo Gorcey as police chief, Rosenbloom self-nominated as treasurer. She also references “Boys Town,” from rival MGM, as a rationale for it. Was that movie the reason this reboot came so quickly on the heels of “Crime School”? If so, they neglected to find their Spencer Tracy. Reagan wasn’t it.

Another big difference between “Hell’s” and “Mayor/Crime”? The big ice hockey game in the middle. It’s part of the efforts of Mike Garvey and Krispan to bankrupt Buck Caesar and get him out of the way. Works. Caesar lays down a $5k bet, but his boys are losing 7-0 in the second period, when Jim/Reagan finds out the opposition Gladstone team is full of ringers. Like an idiot, he tells Buck, and Buck tries to throttle Garvey—right in front of the judge, too, who had just been congratulating himself on a job well done with Buck. Yet another difference. The earlier judges were sober and dull but generally right.

With Buck on the lam, Krispan eliminates the self-government crap then engages in true movie villainy: he locks up, Joey, a kid with a cough, in a freezer, and tells his guards to shoot the boys’ dog, Spud. Spud gets away, Joey doesn’t.

I like the scene where Leo Gorcey’s Gyp confronts Krispan:

Gyp: Joey’s dead.
Krispan: What? You’re crazy. You’re lying.
Gyp: That ain’t gonna bring him back.

Third of three
I don’t think they kill Krispan—as in “Mayor.” Rule of law and all that. Buck returns, Jim/Reagan promises justice will be done, etc. The movie ends with “Auld Lang Syne.”

“Hell’s Kitchen” is the weakest of the three films, suffering, as it does, from a lack of adult supervision. Splitting up the Cagney/Bogart role weakens both sides of the character—like Kirk in “The Enemy Within.” And give me Madge Evans over Margaret Lindsay.

As for the 40th president of the United States? He displays athleticism in the ice-skating scenes and ... that’s about it. But he does have a kind of straightforward scolding quality. I.e., this gray area isn’t gray, it’s the way the world is, so act accordingly. Didn’t exactly work here, but it would kill 40 years later.

Reagan in Hell's Kitchen

 The scold before the shucks. 

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Posted at 01:57 AM on Oct 30, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s
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Saturday October 13, 2018

Movie Review: The Mayor of Hell (1933)

The Mayor of Hell movie review

WARNING: SPOILERS

Some kids are sent to a reform school that’s run like a corrupt prison, but two well-meaning adults—including a former gangster from the neighborhood—help save them.

Believe it or not, Warner Bros. made this movie three times in the 1930s—each time with their star of the moment. Here, it’s Cagney. In 1938, it was “Crime School” with Humphrey Bogart. A year later, Warners made “Hell’s Kitchen” with Ronald Reagan.

Wait, Ronald Reagan? As a former gangster?

Yeah, not quite. More on that another time.

Pig slop
The star isn’t really the star anyway—the kids are. Here, they’re somewhere between Our Gang and the Dead End Kids. They’re teenagers like the latter but diverse like the former. It’s a rainbow coalition of early 20th-century stereotypes: emotional Italian, money-conscious Jew, bug-eyed black kid.

This last is played by Allen Hoskins, who played “Farina” in the Our Gang comedies. The Jewish kid, Izzy (Sidney Miller), is just as outré but feels less problematic. Sure, he winds up running the company store, but his lines are the lines Jewish authors would give their characters decades later. “What I’m making in here I can put in my right eye” he says. “I’ll fix you, ya gonif,” he says. It’s a type produced from within rather than imposed from without.

You know what I liked about this one? The kids aren’t the only ones who start out on the wrong side of the law.

As Patsy Gargan, the new deputy commissioner, Cagney doesn’t show up until 25 minutes in. He rolls into the reformatory with his drunk pal Mike (Cagney foil Allen Jenkins) and Mike’s blonde moll (Sheila Terry), offers a drink to the movie’s villain, Superintendent Thompson (Duddley Digges), then wonders how “to make things look regular.” He asks Thompson to turn in his reports for him. He’s a crook—a cheap ward heeler, as someone calls him. His job is a sinecure in a corrupt administration.

What changes him? For starters, he runs into a younger version of himself, Jimmy (Frankie Darro of “Wild Boys of the Road,” who played the young Cagney in “Public Enemy”). He’s on the lam, gets caught, is whipped and ordered back into solitary.

But what really changes him, of course, is a woman, Miss Griffith (Madge Evans), the school’s pretty nurse. She insists Jimmy gets medical attention. Patsy agrees. She insists what’s truly needed in the school is self-government. Patsy agrees. Then he makes a pass at her.

Here are the books she owns:

  • Fundamental Principles of the Juvenile Republic
  • Self-Government for Juvenile Correction 

Immediate thought: Was the screenwriter...? Yes. Edward Chodorov was a member of the Communist party. In 1953, he was fingered by Jerome Robbins and wound up blacklisted after he refused to cooperate with HUAC.

Delayed thought: Wait, self-government? Why does Patsy think this is a good idea? Isn’t he part of a corrupt government machine himself? I guess the key is the “self.”

Anyway, it works. The kids get real food, they clean the joint up, and even elect our titular mayor (Jimmy, of course). One kid, Pete, gets hungry and steals a chocolate bar from the company store. He winds up in front of the “Supreme Court.” Farina is his defense attorney and another tough mug is the judge. Justice is dispensed. It’s all super-cutesy.

Of course, the forces of corruption try to fight back but the kids are too strong. Patsy is the one who screws it up. One of his men, Joe, tries to take over his racket back in town, so he shows up to reclaim it. A gun goes off, Joe winds up in the hospital, Patsy’s on the lam. At the school, Thompson takes back the reins and it’s back to pig slop for the kids. Even Nurse Griffith resigns.

The ending is fascinating and menacing. Thompson forces Johnny (Raymond Borzage), a kid with a croup-like cough, into solitary after he doesn’t squeal; he dies there. When Thompson gets the news, he’s stunned, and rushes to the infirmary ... where all the kids are waiting. From director Archie Mayo (or Michael Curtiz, who did uncredited work) we get like a minute-long silent sequence in which Thompson stares at the kids faces—who are, by turns, sad, then increasingly angry—and, realizing his predicament, he struggles to get out as if fighting against the current. He makes it, but the kids know the tide has turned. It’s the tsar all over again.

If that scene reminded me of some part of “The Blue Angel”—the nightmarish quality of trying to move and being locked into place—the rest recalled “Frankenstein.” The kids, wielding torches, chase Thompson onto a barn roof, then light the barn on fire. Trapped, screaming, he jumps, hits a wire fence, bounces in the air, and lands in the slop of a pig sty—dead. I actually laughed out loud. Those commie writers don’t fuck around.

And where’s Cagney in all this? Hiding out. But he shows up at the end to convince the kids to put out the fire and face the authorities—who, in ultimate bow-tie neatness, declare it was Thompson’s own fault that he died. Meanwhile, Joe lives, Patsy gives him his racket, and he and the pretty nurse return to run the school. Ain’t life swell?

Come back to the five and dime, Frankie Darro, Frankie Darro
One of my favorite things about watching these movies is finding out about the players.

Frankie Darro is so good in this, so graceful and present, one wonders why he wasn’t bigger. Was it the fact that he never grew tall? Fifteen years later, he was still playing a newsboy in “The Babe Ruth Story.” But he kept acting, and he’s the subject of a biography published in 2008.

The villain? Dudley Digges? He not only played the original Casper Gutman in the 1931 version of “Maltese Falcon,” he directed “Alexander Hamilton” on Broadway in 1917. It was the biggest Hamilton play of all time ... until recently.

I think I got most lost in Sidney Miller’s story. In 1938 he played opposite Mickey Rooney in “Boys Town,” they became friends, and Miller wrote songs for him. (He’s got 28 soundtrack credits.) In the 1950s he helped revamp the first iteration of “The Mickey Mouse Club” and in the ’60s became a regular director of sitcoms: “My Favorite Martian,” “Get Smart,” “The Monkees.” (He’s got 38 directing credits.) He also kept acting (146 credits). I once saw him in an episode of “Barney Miller” in the mid-70s. He’s also the father of Barry Miller, who played the gay kid in “Fame,” and one of Travolta’s friends in “Saturday Night Fever.” IMDb can be such a rabbit hole.

At 90 minutes, “The Mayor of Hell” is longer than most of the early ’30s Cagney movies, but then Cagney isn’t in it much. But his ethos is. It’s the Warner Bros. ethos: Never rat on your friends. Sadly, it’s a lesson that Jack Warner, one of the first and loudest to testify before HUAC, never learned.

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Posted at 02:10 AM on Oct 13, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s
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Thursday September 27, 2018

Movie Review: Lady Killer (1933)

Lady Killer movie review

WARNING: SPOILERS

Whenever a new storytelling form comes around, it seems its early incarnations are often slap-dash and episodic: Here’s a guy, and things happen to him, and maybe it all means something in the end but probably not. It's more the province of hucksters than artists. Think TV, comic books, movies. The novel began as the picaresque, which Google describes thus:

... relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.

That’s this. A lot of the early Cagney is this, to be honest. It’s astonishing how much that description fits Cagney: rough, dishonest, but oh-so appealing.

Duck soup
At the start, Dan Quigley (Cagney) is a wise-ass, gum-chewing movie usher in NYC who gets canned outside an Edward G. Robinson gangster pic, is targeted by grifters, then gets wise to the grift and offers his services. He says he’ll show them how they can make a thousand bucks a week. Cut to: They’re making $10k a week and own their own nightclub. What did he show them? Who knows? The movie never says. It just happens. 

Then they decided to rob houses. An odd move, considering the nightclub. Someone gets clumsy, of course, and a maid dies, or maybe it’s a butler—in conversation, the victim changes gender—so they go on the lam. In a train station in Chicago, Dan and Myra Gale (Mae Clark), the original grifter, pick LA., but she abandons him for the gang’s other leader, Spade (Douglass Dumbrille), leading to that typical mid-movie Cagney moment: our strong hero suddenly falls apart. We next see him in a bar, a mid-day drunk with five o’clock shadow.

Then he’s picked for the picture business. National Pictures wants tough guys. He’s making do as an extra—a prisoner here, Native American there—but wants stardom. So he writes his own fan mail and sends it to the studio. (Apparently, this is based on a real-life scheme by Russian exile Ivan Lebdeff, who became a minor star in the ’20s and ’30s.) Then the gang returns and wants Quigley to use his connections to get inside movie-star mansions so they can rob them. Yeah, despite what happened in New York, they still think this is the way to go. But the cops—who are either nonexistent or right on top of everything—get wise, the gang tries to throw them Quigley, but there’s a chase and everything turns out all right. The gang gets prison, Quigley gets the movie star wife, we get to leave.

A few thoughts after the ride.

Whenever I see a face in a modern movie that I can’t quite place, and none of their better-known projects ring a bell, invariably they were in an episode of “Seinfeld.” Oh, right, he played Bizarro Jerry. And whenever that happens with a face in a ’30s or ‘40s flick? Invariably they were in a Marx Brothers movie. That’s Douglass Dumbrille here. I’m like: How do I know this guy? IMDb suggests Jannes in “Ten Commandments” (nah), John Cedar in “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (maybe?), and “Air Hawks” and “The World Changes” (never seen them). So I scan down. And there it is. Dumbrille played Morgan, the villain who beats Harpo in the beginning of “A Day at the Races,” and whose voice is the “Frau Blucher” for the ultimately winning race horse.

This is the first reteaming of Cagney and Mae Clark since they became a smash when he mashed a grapefruit in her face in “Public Enemy,” and the movie plays with it a bit. In that Chicago train station, they read a So Cal brochure, grapefruit is mentioned, and they both pause for just a second. Not bad. Later, he has to drag her across the floor by her hair. Cagney was defined now as a “woman slugger,” so this kind of thing was expected. It's the Hollywood credo: If a thing works, repeat it to death. 

The title is a lie, by the way. “Lady Killer” isn’t true literally or metaphorically—and it’s particularly untrue metaphorically. Here’s how much Cagney isn’t a lady killer: He loses the first girl, Mae Clark, to Douglass Dumbrille. Wow. That’s like Brad Pitt losing a girl to James Cromwell or John C. Reilly. Then he tries to woo the second girl, movie star Lois Underwood (Margaret Lindsay), by sending two dozen monkeys to her birthday party. “You ask for monkeys, you get monkeys,” he says, giggling, even as her party is ruined. It’s part of that weird, sniggering, adolescent streak Cagney had in his early films. Glad it went away.

BTW: If anyone ever makes a documentary on all the versions of Minstrelsy and #YellowFace throughout Hollywood history, there’s a clip here worth using: white extra after white extra, as if on an assembly line, and including Cagney, getting spraypainted and fitted with Indian headdresses. It’s not just the appropriation. It’s the fact that the majority race is dressing up as a minority race, so that, in a heroic tale about a member of the majority, they can villainize the minority. And it was done without thought. It was repeated to death. 

No squawk
“Lady Killer” isn’t much of a movie, but it’s got Cagney front and center and that’s always good for a jolt. He's also using a lot of the disappeared vernacular that I love: “No squawk,” “Duck soup,” “I never rapped you.” Plus, when it comes down to it, I don’t mind a picaresque. I kind of like not knowing where I’m going even if at the end it’s not much of a journey.

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Posted at 01:40 AM on Sep 27, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s
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Friday September 21, 2018

Movie Review: Jimmy the Gent (1934)

WARNING: SPOILERS

If the title sounds familiar, it may be because it's the nickname of Robert De Niro’s character in “Goodfellas.” He was called that because of this.

How is this? Well, it’s the first time Cagney is directed by Michael Curtiz—who would subsequently direct him in both “Angels with Dirty Faces” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy”—but it’s basically another Warner Bros. quickie. It was made quick, the characters talk quick (Cagney wins), and its runtime is only 67 minutes long. Zip zip. People didn’t have time to waste during the Depression.

You also forget it quick. There’s not much there there.

Filet mignon
Movie review: Jimmy the GentIt feels like a play. There’s a lot of static action. Essentially “Jimmy the Gent” is a comedy in three gags.

In the first gag, we see how Jimmy—who finds or “manufactures” heirs of the recently deceased—operates. It’s rough and tumble, slapping faces, particularly of his hapless subordinate/foil Lou (Allen Jenkins), but Jimmy’s got a humorous glint in his eyes. The usual Cagney, in other words. Some of the adolescent mannerisms in his early films are gone, thank god, but he also gave himself an insane buzzcut to stick it to the bosses at Warners. His co-star, Bette Davis, apparently didn’t appreciate it, either.

In the second gag, Jimmy sees how his competition, Wallingham (Alan Dinehart), operates: high class, with high tea, and impeccable manners. Wallingham keeps tossing out French phrases. “C’est la guerre,” he says at one point, and, to Jimmy, “Au revoir.” “Filet mignon,” Jimmy responds. Hopelessly and—per the Warner Bros. ethos—righteously low class, Jimmy nonetheless tries to pretty himself up. He does this less for the business than for Joan (Davis), the girl he’s sweet on but who doesn’t like his charlatan ways. She used to work for Jimmy, and maybe date him, but now works for Wallingham. She sees him as a gentleman with ethics. So Jimmy tries to get ethics, too.

Well, he doesn’t try that hard. The third gag, which eats up most of the movie, is the big swindle. A woman who eats out of garbage cans dies, and, in the hospital, searching for her identity, it’s discovered that the inside of her coat is lined with treasury bonds, jewels, gold. She’s worth like $200k—about $3.6 million today. Was this a trope in the 1930s? The rich hobo? (I’m reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Jailbird,” too.) Either way, the search commences to find/manufacture heirs. Wallingham gets his, so Jimmy searches for one that will trump Wallingham’s. He finds him: Marty Barton, a gambler, who’s now going by the name Joe Rector (Arthur Hohl). Except he’s wanted for murder. He won’t show his face to collect the inheritance. What’s Jimmy to do?

His scheme is incredibly complex, with a lot of moving parts, but it ain’t bad. The fun part is trying to keep up with it.

First he gets Joe to marry Lou’s girl, Mabel (Alice White, who’s great as a sweet, sexy, gum-chewing ditz). Then he bribes the nightclub singer that witnessed the murder, Gladys (Mayo Methot), to marry Joe as well. Now she’s his wife and can’t testify against him in court. She’s also been promised $100k when it’s over. Of course, once Joe gets off, Cagney welches. Plus she’s not Joe’s wife since he already married Mable. Except Mabel isn’t his wife either since she married him under a fictitious name. So all the men get off with the dough and all the women get squat. It’s up to Joan to deliver the rebuke. “You can go down deeper, stay under longer, and come up dirtier than any man I’ve ever known,” she tells him. She also delivers the movie’s tagline: She calls Jimmy “the biggest chiseler since Michelangelo.” Good line. 

Bette Davis eyes
That leaves about 10 minutes. So, via another scheme, Jimmy gets Wallingham to reveal he’s just as big a chiseler as he is—worse, actually—and without the Cagney brio. Wallingham flees and Jimmy the Gent gets the girl.

All of which is kind of fun. The biggest problem I had with the movie? We have to pretend Bette Davis isn’t smart enough to see past Wallingham’s front. We have to believe she thinks he’s legit simply because of the tea and British sensibilities. We have to believe she chooses manners over sex.

Nah to any of that.

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Posted at 01:59 AM on Sep 21, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s
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