19 July 2005 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Several excellent performances.
It's generally accepted that silent-film star Clara Bow's career was ruined by sound, and she herself even said so, but I'm not so convinced. Before she made her first talkie, her fans were already aware of her prole Brooklyn accent. I think that a more plausible reason for her decline was simply that she was getting older: the 'It' Girl became a star in Jazz Baby roles during the Roaring Twenties, and by the time she hit her own mid-twenties she was starting to look dissipated.
'Kick In' is the unfortunately light-hearted title of a serious drama about crime and regeneration. In the central role, Clara Bow gives an extremely impressive performance, all the more laudable because -- cast as a working-class woman -- she has the sense not to try for glamour at the expense of credibility.
SLIGHT SPOILERS COMING. There's a cheap attempt to mislead us in the opening sequence. We see Regis Toomey as a penitentiary inmate, nervously watching the clock. We're led to believe he's about to be executed, but in fact he's about to be released after doing porridge for a minor felony. His wife (Bow) is waiting for him, but they've no money and he finds it difficult to get an honest job.
Paul Hurst, who usually played despicable characters, is more hissable than usual here as a Javert-like plainclothesman who keeps stalking Toomey, hoping he'll commit another crime so that Hurst can nick him. (Don't the police have anything better to do?) Toomey's trying to go straight, but he still hangs about with his criminal acquaintances (James Murray and Wynne Gibson).
Murray burgles the D.A.'s wife's necklace, but gets shot by the D.A.'s butler. He must be using boomerang bullets: the butler fires at Murray's right profile, but Murray gets shot in his left side. James Murray, so tragically doomed in real life, gives a riveting performance in his death scene here. Also impressive is Leslie Fenton -- looking amazingly like Christopher Walken -- as Bow's 'snowbird' brother, although they failed to convince me that they were siblings. Oddly, the dialogue makes frequent references to the 'stuff' that Fenton's addicted character is using, but never identifies it explicitly.
Donald Crisp has some good dialogue, which he delivers crisply (no pun intended, for once) in his incongruous Scottish accent as police chief Garvey. Less pleasant is the cod accent employed by Juliette Compton as Murray's criminal companion, who cries herself Piccadilly Bessie(!) but who speaks in a rhinestone accent that's apparently meant to be Mayfair, while she freely admits she's never been to England. The interrogation scene between Crisp (all Highland burr) and Compton (sounding like a Jessie Matthews impersonator) will fascinate any phonologists in the audience.
I found Paul Hurst's character deeply implausible, but Hurst gives an excellent performance in the role. Wynne Gibson is impressive too here, and quietly attractive as a moll who -- for love of Murray -- deliberately maims her own hand. Toomey's character knows some guy named Oscar who stays off screen but is willing to dispose of corpses at a moment's notice; where can *I* find a fellow like that? I'll rate this movie 8 out of 10. I enjoyed 'Kick In', and I wish that this drama were better known ... so that people will realise that Clara Bow was an actress of genuine talent, and not merely the 'It' Girl.