9 April 2014 | marcslope
John Gilbert struggles valiantly
This early Mervyn Le Roy work starts out as an intriguing look at class, self-identity, and a mixing of two worlds, but less than halfway through it switches to a standard bootleggers-and- their-molls flick. In both sections, there are some loose ends flapping. We first encounter Gilbert as a well-to-do, polished Manhattanite, unaware that his money comes from the illegal liquor trade, and also unaware that his dad, whom he thought dead, is alive and dying, and he has a brother, Louis Wolheim (Louis Wolheim as John Gilbert's brother? even the script tries to make a joke of it), who runs the dirty business. Where the heck did he think all his money came from, anyway, and how was he catapulted into such high living? The movie doesn't say. Anyway, upon discovering his humble origins, he's at first repelled and then sucked into the family business, resorting to murder and taking up with moll Anita Page (who's rather touching) because he can't get over being dumped by fiancée Leila Hyams. It's run-of-the-mill booze, broads, and guns from there, though the ending's unexpectedly downbeat and depressing (he has sinned, but surely he didn't deserve this). Gilbert is better than his reputation suggests--there was absolutely nothing wrong with his voice, and he emotes persuasively. But it's basically downhill from a good start.