25 October 2016 | joe-pearce-1
Fast and Crackling Newspaper Drama
Although Lew Cody and Sally Blane are billed over Wallace Ford, this is his film, and only his second full-length one to be released, back in 1931. To a large extent, it is a near FRONT PAGE type of tale, with Cody as the fast-talking and near-conscienceless editor and Ford as his ace reporter, and they are not all that inferior to their more famous film counterparts as played by Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien. Not only that, but the various scenes in the newspaper office(s) they inhabit are about as atmospheric and realistic as anything of their type I have seen in film, then or now, and director Erle C. Kenton uses some really impressive tracking shots encompassing huge amounts of space, actors, and dialog that Alfred Hitchcock might have been proud of. When there is action, it is fast-paced, and both the newspaper offices and courtroom episodes, as well as the many street scenes featured, involve a great many actors, extras, vehicles, etc., so this looks like anything but a 1931 B film. Lew Cody had been a big star in silents, and he has a rather middle-aged debonair look about him entirely at odds with his tough and masculine speaking voice. Indeed, his hat (shades of the kind that Leslie Fenton and Dwight Frye might have affected) would have had my dad questioning his masculinity, if not for his totally macho delivery of his lines. Ford, given a role here with a bit more sentimentality than was usual for him (or for reporters at all in those McArthur/Hecht-influenced days) carries the film on his shoulders very well. Sally Blane as his girl friend (and Cody's secretary) carries her parts of the film better than could most actresses in the still nascent 1931 spoken performance style expected of leading ladies back then (she's certainly more realistic and natural than, say, Jean Harlow in that same year), and everybody else is just fine, including villainous Fred Kohler in an unusual non-Western role, Charles Middleton as a not overly bright police inspector with no signs yet on display of his Ming the Merciless immortality grab a few years later (this same year he was also a much smarter prosecutor in AN American TRAGEDY), and Clarence Muse (misspelled "Meuse" here, and maybe the best African-American actor in early sound films before Paul Robeson's arrival) in a very good and funny, if somewhat stereotypical (for the times) black role as a witness who, while answering questions in a not too bright manner, is seen to easily have more brains than the inspector and the district attorney who question him both at the murder scene and on the witness stand. Example: Called back to the witness stand, the prosecutor says, "You established the fire escape" (referring to previous testimony) and Muse answers, "I didn't establish it; it was there when I got the job." Not Neil Simon perhaps, but still funny in the context of the film, and I would imagine audiences laughed at it. Anyway, a most delightful and interesting way to spend an hour with early Wallace Ford, late Lew Cody (he died in 1934) and lovely Sally Blane, a B-film girl for all seasons who was just as good an actress at this stage of her career as was her sister Loretta Young during the same period. I'm surprised this film isn't better remembered.