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  • Now THIS pre-Code movie is a clear and courageous accusation of the wrongs in American society in the early 30s if ever there was one: a DIRECT attack on the 'famous' Vice Squad and its methods for bringing as many 'party girls' (a euphemism for prostitutes) to 'justice' in order to protect American morals. It doesn't hesitate to depict their way of 'working' in detail: they pick men in need, or in trouble with the law, as stool pigeons to trap the unsuspecting girls and catch them 'in flagranti' - in this case, the forced stool pigeon is a former member of a foreign embassy, who got innocently involved in a murder case; and for two years, he's being used by the ruthless police captain to ruin the lives of countless girls, until he literally can't look at himself in the mirror anymore, becomes an alcoholic, and attempts suicide. He's saved by a nice, innocent young girl - but very soon, she becomes a target of the 'Vice Squad' as well; and only he can save her reputation, by telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth...

    With the help of an excellent cast and a first-class script and direction, "Vice Squad" became one of the VERY few movies (and of course, it would under NO circumstances have been granted a seal three years later) that OPENLY, and in NO way humorously, accuses the police methods as well as the overall social odds during the first years of the Great Depression; it will forever remain a time document for everyone to see - just in case history books might be altered over the years and the social evils of the era should be 'whitewashed'...
  • Intelligent drama benefits from literate script and a sensitive central performance by Paul Lukas, well cast as a diplomat blackmailed by corrupt vice cops into entrapping prostitutes. Lukas nicely balances a shabby gentility with despair as he's driven to drink in lowdown Greenwich Village dives to forget his "dirty" job. Choosing between sleek Kay Francis and blonde Judith Wood presents a romantic dilemma paralleling the moral decision he must make. Esther Howard--a longtime character actress and Preston Sturges favorite--here looks unrecognizably youthful as a salty-tongued artist's model.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Formerly on the VintageFilmBuff label is another Paramount double, this time starring Kay Francis. In The Vice Squad (1931), although second-billed to the noirishly entrapped hero, Paul Lukas, Kay Francis does not play the heroine (that role is beautifully played by Judith Wood) but the girl who is prepared to send her rival to jail.

    A meaty film noir, The Vice Squad is not even mentioned in most books on this subject even though it has the further noir asset of being decidedly anti-police. This film is absolutely no "tribute" to its title organization, but a trenchant attack on the vice squad and its dealings, incisively directed by John Cromwell.

    The other 9/10 movie on this DVD, The False Madonna (1931) had all the makings of a superior crime/weepie but is undermined by the weak acting of lackluster Conway Tearle in a small but vital role. Even the editor is aware of his total lack of charisma and tries to cut away from him to reaction shots of Kay Francis, William "Stage" Boyd and John Breeden as often as possible.

    Stylishly directed (Stuart Walker) and beautifully photographed, the movie is still a must-see.
  • "The Vice Squad" is a most unusual that Hollywood probably could not have gotten away with making just a few years later with the new toughened Production Code. This is because the villain in this film is a cop--a dirty, manipulative one...something you were simply not supposed to have in films after the industry was morally sanitized in mid-1934.

    When the story begins, Stephen Lucarno (Paul Lukas) is on a lonely country road at night talking to a woman. They aren't doing anything illegal...just talking. Soon, a cop approaches them and begins threatening them...and the woman runs over this policeman and kills him!! Stephen is left at the scene and a vice cop arrives and announces that Stephen will be his informer and help him on prostitution cases OR he'll be sent to prison for murder...a murder he did not commit. Well, Stephen is naive and soon becomes the cop's number one stoolie. Now this is odd, as Stephen works at the embassy. They don't say he's the ambassador but he most likely DID have diplomatic immunity and should have stood firm against the threat...but he didn't. What's next? See the picture.

    Normally I wonder why Lukas was in so many American films in leading roles. After all, his Hungarian accent is thick...kinda Dracula-like. But here, the accent and fine manners work well with the character. He is fine in this role. As for the movie, it's also pretty good...despite the plot being a bit difficult to believe. Worth seeing.
  • AAdaSC19 February 2019
    ...ha cha cha cha. So sang Kid Creole and the Coconuts and this must have inspired the writers to embark on a 'stoolie' story. The outcome is an attack on the corrupt police in the Vice Squad. After the dramatic killing of a policeman by Ambassador's wife, Juliette Compton at the film's beginning, Paul Lukas (Stephen) is left to take the blame and so is blackmailed into becoming a police informer. His role becomes one to set up girls to be prosecuted on vagrancy charges, ie, prostitution. However, once kindly Judith Wood (Madeline) is targeted, he has second thoughts about his new profession.

    The film is ok, made more interesting by the fact that this is pretty well what actually went on. It has a good social history value. The film also depicts idiot policemen getting their come-uppance. This happens at the beginning of the film when the rozza books Lukas and Compton for 'necking', even though they weren't, after shouting out "Vice Squad" at them. Who does he think he is? Well, Compton sorts him out nicely. Even if it is a bit of a shock.

    The film loses its way a bit with Lukas in the lead as he gets s bit mopey and you sometimes can't understand him because of his thick accent. I'd watch it again, though.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In keeping the morals of large cities on a tight leash, the vice squad broke other laws by turning the division into a racket by hiring stool pigeons to frame young girls who were innocent of any wrong doing. That's the claim of the opening title card, explaining how crime within law enforcement did more harm than good. It's a shame then that this film becomes so odd yet remains intriguing, mainly because in it's efforts to expose rackets like this, it becomes as close to a low budget exploitation film that a major studio like Paramount could put out.

    Foreign diplomat Paul Lukas is left behind at the scene of a hit and run, blackmailed by a vice cop into becoming a stool pigeon, breaking his engagement to Kay Francis and going into hiding. His disgust with himself leads him to become a lush, and one night, is helped home by the pretty Judith Wood and her pal Esther Howard. The vice cops want to use Wood as one of the falsely accused, but Lukas is disgusted by this and refuses to comply. He returns to Francis and only becomes involved when he discovers that Wood was arrested anyway.

    Of course, the dashing Lukas gives an excellent performance, and Wood is quite good too. Francis's character is sadly not fully defined, at one point impatient with him and the next moment showing her loyalty. The opening sequence of Compton abandoning Lukas, thus setting him up for blackmail, is never concluded, a jarring flaw. This is a strange film that is completely watchable even if it leaves more questions unanswered than the issues it solves.
  • Paul Lukas refuses Vice Squad Rockcliffe Fellowes to name the lady he was with -- the ambassador's wife, who has run down and killed the officer who tried to arrest her. Fellowes offers him a choice: accessory to murder, or work with him as a "stool pigeon", trapping girls for .... well, they call it "vagrancy" in the movie. A couple of years later, he's still at it, drinking his meals. Whn he rescues Judith Wood, who's been living in Greenwich Village as an aspiring writer, she returns the favor by nursing him during a session of the DTs. A cople of days later, he's sent to her apartment, but on the way out he tells Fellowes the truth: there's no morals charge involved. Fellowes arrests her anyway.

    It's a serious social problem movie, with titles that speak to this sort of police misconduct. Despite the lack of anything particularly prurient on screen, it marks itself as a serious Pre-Code; while the Warner Brothers Studio would show the gangsters having a grand time shooting up the sets, or Demille would give the audience a wild party, this one makes it a personal story, well acted by Lukas, torn between Miss Wood and his former fiancee, Kay Francis, who offers him a return to respectability, but warns him that if he disgraces himself by testifying in court, she will drop him back into the gutter.

    Because of the lack of excitement and Lukas' low-affect depression, I found it to be an earnest but not particularly cinematic effort.
  • What begins as a provocative expos√® of vice squad methods (circa 1930s America) turns into the tiresome story of a drunk "stool pigeon" seeking redemption through the love of a pure girl. Paul Lukas lacks magnetism (and I have come to the conclusion that drunk people in films are so boring to watch), the direction lacks dynamism, and Kay Francis is wasted. *1/2 out of 4.