6 February 2006 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
'The Guilty Generation' has a misleading title. This movie would seem to indict a generation, but it's actually more interested in indicting an ethnic group ... to be precise, the Italians. This movie takes place in a universe where everyone named Angelo or Luigi is automatically a gangster. Late in the film, there's some brief dialogue about honest Italians vilifying the crooked members of their 'race' ... but most of this movie seems to indicate that Italian ancestry and criminal behaviour are mutually inclusive.
Robert Young is a rising young architect named John Smith, a name guaranteed to attract attention. Indeed, we soon find out that he was born Marco Ricca, son of gangster Tony Ricca. The latter is played by Boris Karloff, looking not remotely Italian. (Although Italian-American actor Abe Vigoda was a Karloff lookalike.) Karloff brings deep conviction and presence to this role, but his performance is not very convincing. Part of the problem is that Tony Ricca's dialogue is full of "ain't"s and other grammatical errors, yet Karloff speaks these thick-eared lines in his usual cultured tones. Elsewhere, Murray Kinnell is good in a supporting role, but his well-bred English accent seems out of place in a setting that's knee-deep in goombahs.
There are excellent performances by two actors unknown to me, Emma Dunn and Elliott Rothe. Also impressive is Leo Carrillo. Because of his short stature and thick accent, Carrillo is best known for comic roles. Here, he's chillingly believable as a crime lord, utterly ruthless and unforgiving. Much of the film takes place in the sumptuous Florida mansion owned by Carrillo's character. I was astounded that Columbia Pictures -- at this point, a studio barely out of Poverty Row -- were able to achieve these production values.
Also quite good, in a supporting role, is Ruth Warren as Carrillo's press agent. Unfortunately, Warren was precisely the same character type as several other better-known and better actresses -- Jean Dixon and Glenda Farrell spring to mind -- so she failed to claim a niche for herself among Hollywood's character actresses. As the romantic leads in this melange, Robert Young and the insipid Constance Cummings are as dull as dishwater. I've never yet seen a performance by Cummings that impressed me.
'The Guilty Generation', well-directed by the underrated Rowland V Lee, and nicely photographed by Byron Haskin, is probably of greatest interest to Karloff fans. Be advised that Karloff's role is actually quite small, and he's miscast. Overall, I'll rate this movie 6 out of 10.