17 March 2014 | marcslope
One of the great screen pairings you never hear about
Dorothy Mackail was pretty and spirited and projected tough-mindedness more than most of her contemporary leading ladies, and Milton Sills was sex on two legs. They made four movies together, and this one, screened at Cinefest in Syracuse in 2014, is about as hard-boiled and entertaining as an early talkie can be. Sills, a corrupt nightclub owner battling the mob, saves a despondent Mackail from throwing herself into the Hudson, then gives her a job as a singer at his nightclub (she does her own singing, not badly). What's surprising and undated about this melodrama is how morally complicated both characters are--Sills can be self-centered and violent and terrifying, but has a soft side that just about redeems him. Mackail is similarly multilayered playing a Stanwyck kind of good-bad girl, one who's seen too much of life but doesn't want to give up totally. Her other love interest, newspaperman Kenneth McKenna, at first seems like a reprobate--invited with Mackail up to a country Christmas, he has them pose as man and wife and shares a room with her--but proves to have solid values after all, a plot point I didn't entirely buy. Anyway, it's a fast and exciting early talkie, with good support from Roscoe Karns in one of his earliest wisecracking-newspaperman roles, and a terrific look at Sills, who's utterly at ease before the microphone, likable, and virile as all getout. He died three weeks after this was released, having a heart attack on his tennis court. A major loss.