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  • This film is available on Alpha Video in a decent print and is most noteworthy as the final film of Roland West's career. He made three sound films, all with Chester Morris in the lead. This is also the least popular and in some ways the least artistic of the three. An additional behind-the-scenes interest of this film, is that Thelma Todd is the female lead, billed as "Alison Loyd" in an obvious attempt to distinguish her as a dramatic actress. She is fine in the film, but has a rather skimpy part.

    The plot involves a young man who has just graduated from college who begins to work on Wall Street after being teased by Todd's character and clashes with his boss, who is her father. To prove his point and to get revenge, he becomes a modern day pirate, stealing liquor from illegal shipments at sea. Chester Morris is excellent in the role of John Hawkes, the young man.

    Some great sharp camera angles and one very dark, sinister scene involving "Fish Face" and a female, Sophie, do not entirely make up for the fact that this film does not advance the techniques of film-making as ALIBI and THE BAT WHISPERS did. West's combination of editing with sound effects and music in ALIBI were a revelation in early 1929. And with THE BAT WHISPERS, he took miniature work to a new level in sound films with his 'bat's eye' camera moves through the cities and towns. CORSAIR seems rather routine in comparison.

    That is not to say this is not a good little gangster film. Fred Kohler is solid as the bootlegger, Big John, and Ned Sparks along with Mayo Methot are great in support. The editing is crisp and the overall film has the dark touches you would expect from Roland West. It still holds up as one of the more effective gangster films of the early 1930s.
  • Ex-football player Chester Morris, egged on by rich girl Thelma Todd, tries bootlegging and piracy as a career. Will he continue to triumph over the villainous gangsters whose cargoes he hijacks, with friends Ned Sparks and Frank McHugh, or will Big John get his revenge on the crew of the CORSAIR?

    This isn't a great work of art, and no new ground is broken. But once the plot gets rolling (it takes about a reel), this is a darn good action flick with a nice straightforward leading-man performance out of Morris, a surprisingly sympathetic turn out of Ned Sparks, and much of the fluid, frequently beautiful camera work and staging that is characteristic of director Roland West. Mayo Methot probably gets the best acting scene, and, in this case, is helped by her director, who has the sense to let the scene play out with simple lighting and staging. The director, indeed, helps himself by downplaying some of the camera showiness on films like Alibi and The Bat, and by improving, significantly, his direction of actors and his pacing of the story.

    We do not have a perfect film here. Thelma Todd is around to look pretty, but she had not found her dramatic acting chops at the time this movie was shot. Also, the ending of the movie is utterly wrong and too drawn out. But in its middle reels, this movie is as spry and well-paced as a typical Warners movie, and suggests that Morris could have had a much better movie career with more films like this. Worth seeing -- particularly if you think 1931 movies are all people standing around and declaiming while the camera stays put.
  • I wasn't expecting much from this film. I watched it mainly because it stars two favorites of mine - Chester Morris and Thelma Todd. I was very pleasantly surprised. The film opens with John Hawks (Chester Morris), a collegiate football star, winning the big game. Later that night, at a society party, he meets Alison Corning (Thelma Todd) who personifies every argument in favor of the inheritance tax you've ever heard with the saying "spare the rod spoil the child" thrown in for good measure. She's beautiful, spoiled, used to getting whatever and whoever she wishes, and will do anything for a thrill. John's bad luck is that she wants him from first sight. She convinces her big Wall Street financier dad, "Steve" as she calls him, to give John a job at his firm. John is hardly enamored by Alison. He can see right through her, and on the surface that's got to be a pleasant experience for any guy, but then you get to the not-so-gooey middle. This is what repels him.

    So John takes the job, not really knowing what to do after college anyways, but soon he sees that Alison is the apple that has not fallen far from the tree. Dad is all about making money and he doesn't care if he has to scam orphans and widows to do it. When John refuses to hard sell some worthless stock to an old lady in exchange for her solidly performing bonds he's tossed out without a second glance by dear old Steve.

    John then decides to take to piracy on the high seas - after all it's not too different from what Alison's dad is doing - except he will steal from crooks not orphans and widows. John sets his sights on one bootlegger in particular, and with the help of a wealthy friend who backs him financially by helping him buy a boat (Frank McHugh as Chub), he starts to regularly hijack gangster "Big John's" haul of bootleg liquor and sell it to Steve, his old employer, who is into bootlegging himself as a sideline.

    Now the problem here is that John doesn't spread the pain around to various bootleggers - he picks strictly on Big John's boats. He should realize that Big John did not get where he got by dropping out of Sunday school and sooner or later he is going to retaliate. I'll let you watch and see how this all shakes out.

    I just thought it was very clever and timely for a filmmaker to equate the robber barons of Wall Street with piracy on the high seas. In fact, it makes pirates look noble compared to the Wall Street banksters. There's also some gritty reality thrown in via Mayo Methot's Sophie, the typist for Big John who's beautiful but beaten down by life in the Depression and the constant companionship of ruffians just trying to make a living. Her relationship with Ned Sparks' "Slim" is touching. Slim is one of Big John's men, and the couple is helping out John Hawks in his acts of piracy against Big John in return for a percentage, hoping to get out of "the life" once and for all. The ever present danger of getting caught - if they are lucky, by the law, if not so lucky, by Big John, makes them underplay their emotions for one another and their emotional caution turns out to be quite touching.

    If you like Chester Morris or Thelma Todd, if you want to see a different kind of gangster film, if you think that many of the people running Goldman Sachs and AIG deserve to be cell mates with Bernie Madoff but will probably never learn their lesson from anybody or anything in this life, give this almost forgotten little film a chance.
  • Corsair (from 1931) is a real moldie-oldie, that, in spite of its obvious age and creakiness, still manages to be fairly entertaining, in the long run.

    This 83-year-old Comedy/Romance/Adventure story tells the roundabout tale of how dashing, college, football hero, Johnny Hawkes, meets cheeky, spoilt, heiress, Alison Corning.

    Before long Hawkes finds himself captain of the Corsair (a sleek, high-speed gunboat).

    Imminent danger lurks everywhere once Hawkes and his crew begin dealing with ruthless, modern-day pirates involved in big-time liquor smuggling.

    With its story set mainly in the West Indies, Corsair (at 72 minutes) certainly had its fair share of high-seas action, violence and double-crosses.

    This fast-paced story starred blond beauty, Thelma Todd (murdered at 29) and early-talkies heart-throb, Chester Morris (suicide at 69).
  • jimrick1028 October 2019
    Warning: Spoilers
  • Uriah438 March 2017
    "Johnny Hawks" (Chester Morris ) is an extremely talented football star at a college out west who all the young ladies adore--to include one particularly rich and attractive heiress named "Alison Corning" (Thelma Todd). Yet even so, she thinks he is terribly unsophisticated and because of that asks her father "Steve" (Emmett Corrigan) to give him a job in a corporate office at the New York Stock Exchange. Unfortunately, he is fired a year later because he refuses to lower his ethical standards. Needless to say, this angers Johnny and because of that he decides to set out on his own and prove to Steve the error of his ways. To do this he comes up with a plan to hijack ships carrying illegal alcohol and reselling it in a legal manner--to Alison's father. But his profession is a dangerous one and it's only a matter of time before his luck runs out--and Alison just happens to be there when it does. Now rather than reveal any more I will just say that I thought that this was an incredibly interesting film from a unique period in American history. Admittedly, the script was rather weak and the camera work could have used some improvement. But even so this film still manages to entertain quite nicely and I have rated it accordingly. Above average.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    (Contains spoiler info) Definitely not a 21st century movie. The female lead is out to catch a man any way she can. Her men are either overtly dominant and aggressive to her, in a way that no (few) modern women would accept, or else they are entirely passive and destined to be passed over.

    The male lead becomes a pirate, which is OK with the film's audience because he's stealing from a 'bad guy'. One of his men gets killed when the screen villain double-crosses him, and nary a word is said about it.

    Drunks are 'funny.' No one goes to AA :) .

    I enjoyed the movie, but it's a fantasy that no modern audience would accept.
  • After being told that he hasn't the right stuff for making it on Wall Street, former All American Football player Chester Morris goes in for a different kind of piracy. He decides to become a real pirate and beat the man who told him he was no good on the street Emmet Corrigan at his own game.

    Which in addition to Wall Street stock manipulations is bootlegging. Corrigan's role is eerily like that of Joseph P. Kennedy. Only this Wall Street pirate and bootlegger has a daughter played by Thelma Todd a rather spoiled young lady used to getting exactly what she wants.

    Todd's the main problem, she gives a spiritless and perfunctory performance, so atypical of her. She has absolutely no chemistry. As for Morris he gets a bit too self righteous.

    On the plus side when the hijacking of bootleggers like Fred Kohler gets going Corsair gets a bit of life pumped into it. Frank McHugh plays a part he would repeat over and over at Warner Brothers as the hero's best friend and sets the mold here. Kohler is one nasty customer as the bootlegger Morris robs.

    Corsair is an interesting, but in some stages rather lifeless film.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    That's how the villain in this film describes his gang of cut-throats, and 80 years later, there's even more modern methods to piracy, so that analyzation is quite a coincidence. Here is the story of a college football hero (Chester Morris) who is so angered by his greedily powerful boss that he plots revenge on him and lands a twist on the powerful Wall Street broker (Emmett Corrigan) that might have you howling in delight, especially considering that 80 years later, the same things are still happening on Wall Street with even more diabolical results.

    Morris can't help but be attracted to the Wall Street broker's spoiled ninny of a daughter (Thelma Todd, billed as as Alison Loyd), a selfish sort who, like Carmen, gets more intrigued by the man every time he rejects her or treats her worse. She's engaged to an effeminate dapper dan, and at one point, even asks him if he's really her fiancée or just experimenting. So of course, this is pre-code, and has some genuinely delicious pre-code references as it deals with the piracy of bootlegging. The Walter Matthau of the 1930's, Ned Sparks, is on hand as Morris's grouchy sidekick, with Mayo Methot as his moll whom Sparks orders to make love to a rather ugly pirate nicknamed "Fish Face" (Frank Rice). The future Mrs. Bogart has a truly amazing moment when she follows her lover's orders with shocking results.

    Then there's Frank McHugh, on loan from Warner Brothers and giving his signature "ha ha ha" laugh, as Morris's classmate who sticks by him until the end. The film is interesting because it takes the bootlegging angle away from street gangsters, replacing them with pirates. There is an ocean-set battle between the two different gangs of bootleggers which provides much excitement and gives a modern twist on the old pirate tradition of walking the plank.
  • boblipton2 October 2003
    Pretty good adventure flick as Wayne Morris, fed up with the petty piracy of Wall Street, goes into business for himself, highjacking rumrunners' ships bound to Prohibition America. Some pretty good sequences featuring Fred Kohler as a sadistic gangster, although Thelma Todd is pretty well wasted as a role that calls for her to play an idiot.
  • Michael_Elliott2 December 2008
    Corsair (1931)

    ** (out of 4)

    This is a rather interesting movie as it would turn out to be the final film for director West. The director would take time off after this film to do other business but of course this would end in scandal as his girlfriend, Thelma Todd, would be murdered and a lot of fingers pointed at West. Todd also appears in this film under the fake name of Alison Loyd. A former football star (Chester Morris) can't cut it on Wall Street and after being fired he swears to make money no matter what it takes. He decides to become a pirate and hijack boats carrying alcohol so that he can re-sell it on the streets. When the film finally ended after 74-minutes I was asking myself if that was it because there's really not too much going on. The film has a low budget, which keeps it from being more epic like I'm sure the director and stars wanted but West's direction keeps things floating throughout. The screenplay is pretty standard without many twists or turns in terms of the story. Being from the pre-code era and considering how much trouble West and Morris got into with Alibi I was expecting more in terms of grittiness but that's not here. The entire film plays pretty safe with the exception of one death scene on a hijacked boat but everything is pretty much lost with the really bad ending. I was also rather disappointed with the performance as Morris who has become one of my favorites. He really seems to sleepwalk through the role and doesn't have any of his normal charm. Todd, I'm guessing, tried a dramatic turn here, which might explain the name change but she doesn't come off any better. She certainly isn't bad in the film but she can't fill that Jean Harlow type role too well. Cagney's buddy Frank McHugh steals the film playing a drunk. Fans of the director might want to check this out since it turned out to be his last movie but I doubt too many find it that entertaining.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The film begins with a big college football game. Although the score is tied, in true Hollywood fashion, the game is an upset win the last seconds. The hero of the game, Chester Morris, is invited to a swanky party where he meets the slightly stuck up rich girl, Thelma Todd. However, when she learns he is poor, she is at first uninterested. Then, on a lark, she gets him a job with her unscrupulous father on Wall Street--maybe if Morris is rich and successful, she can still have him for her own.

    In the meantime, she leaves for Europe and won't return for a year. In the meantime, Morris tries his best but because he's ethical, he just can't bring himself to push junk bonds for his sleazy boss. Now here's where it gets strange, as he's very ethical and can't hurt poor shmoes, when he's fired, he decides to become very, very crooked but instead target rich jerks! His plan is to hijack shipments of high-quality mob liquor that are being held offshore (due to Prohibition).

    Now that Morris is finally somebody (yeah, a crook), Todd returns from her trip and is immediately taken with him. After all, being rich and powerful seems to be all that Todd cares about in a man! Well, what happens next is something you'll just have to see for yourself.

    The film does have some decent action scenes, though the plot, at times, is very far-fetched (especially towards the end). For example, once Morris does hijack the booze, he allows the people he just robbed to live--and they would certainly eventually take revenge on him for his villainy--after all, they are mobsters. In addition, he also retires after this one and only holdup--it seems this whole stunt was done to teach his future father-in-law a lesson AND get the girl!(?) Kinda weird, huh--especially when the father-in-law then hires Morris to work for him--even though it turned out that the shipment of booze actually belonged to Todd's father!! Huh?! Because the film kind of made my head hurt at the end (and it should because I made the mistake of thinking), it drops the overall score to 5--a time-passer but not much more.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    If ever there was an "almost best" movie, Corsair is it! Chester Morris never gave a more vigorous performance, Fred Kohler was never more hissable, and Thelma Todd was never more sexy. But, putting the leads to one side, the movie also represents the crowning acting achievements of Frank Rice and Mayo Methot. Ned Sparks and Emmett Corrigan just miss the top rung – Sparks because he was later to better his role in this one, and Corrigan because he fails to communicate a vital turn in the script. Maybe he was unaware of this, or maybe West wrote the screenplay on the run. But it does make the screenplay's last minute revelation seem rather weak and forced. Also, as other critics have pointed out, the Fred Kohler plot is left hanging and not brought to its expected conclusion. But otherwise, Corsair is a thrilling gangsters-on-the-high-seas movie, pacily directed, admirably enacted and loaded with visible and highly engaging talent on both sides of the camera.

    This movie is currently available on two rival DVD labels. So which is the better? It depends what you're looking for. If you want a nice clear, clean, complete, black-and-white print, then Alpha has just what you want. On the other hand, if you'd prefer to see the movie just as it was issued to theatres back in 1931, with all its tinted sequences intact (despite a few scratch marks here and there), then Grapevine is your choice. Me? I choose Grapevine!
  • The early moments of Corsair offer a big buildup for our first look at Alison Loyd: we can hear her conversation with dance partner Frank McHugh, but our only view is of the back of her head. A moment later she is introduced to football hero Chester Morris, and again, she speaks unseen….until finally, in close up, her big smile flashes onto the screen. –Of course, it's Thelma Todd's smile. This big introduction apparently aims at establishing Todd as a mysterious and glamorous figure; presumably, this is why Todd is billed as "Alison Loyd" for the first and (I think) only time—to differentiate her "new" persona from the light comic actress Thelma Todd had been (and would continue to be, thank heavens!).

    Unfortunately, the plot and dialog of Corsair offer Todd/Loyd little else to do besides smile and act alternately spoiled and silly. Her character is a major motivator to the actions of other characters—but she really does little and develops less herself. Which is too bad! Director Roland West didn't do Thelma justice by setting her up as a dangerous female and then giving her practically no depth, surprises or even decent lines to speak.

    Chester Morris comes off better as a football hero turned banker turned pirate. Fired from his broker job for being unwilling to steal a little old lady's savings, he sets out to prove the boss banker wrong in his assertion that Morris doesn't have the nerve to be successful. Nerve? Morris sets up a booze pirating operation that is daring, dangerous and profitable…and sells the banker liquor by the boatload.

    The middle section of the movie builds tension around Morris's organization and the danger he faces as his victims—a gang of smugglers themselves—eventually catch on to his operation and hatch plans to capture and wipe him out. Indeed, it turns into a pretty good adventure movie once it gets rolling.

    Frank McHugh adds liveliness in his role as Morris's right hand man. Fred Kohler is appropriately menacing as "Big John" the smuggler. Morris, a solid lead, gives an excellent performance as a man who chooses and sticks to his own unique code of conduct.

    The scenes between Morris and Todd ought to be the highlights of a film like this….but it's just the opposite. They speak so slowly…how do you make Chester Morris and Thelma Todd into slow talkers? –It's not just a function of the movie being an early talkie, either; there's a deliberateness to these scenes apparently meant to be serious and dramatic—and instead, all it does is drag.

    As an adventure, it's not bad. But darn, in the "dramatic" sections, this is a movie in bad need of some zippy dialog.