29 September 2008 | bkoganbing
"New York Licked Me Once"
Humphrey Bogart's first appearance in Warner Brothers picture was in a small featured role in Big City Blues which starred Eric Linden and Joan Blondell. It's the story of a young kid from Hoopersville, Indiana who comes to the New York City to seek fame and fortune and gets a great deal less than he bargained for.
Linden plays our young man fresh off the farm and the first Linden does is look up cousin Walter Catlett who is playing the usual Walter Catlett sharpie. I do love the way Catlett keeps opening his wallet and to his amazement can't seem to find any money there. He latches on to Linden the way a political 'consultant' latches on to a spendthrift candidate.
Of course Linden's arrival in the Big Apple is cause for a party which means bootleg booze, chorus girls, and some dance music. Catlett takes the liberty and Linden's money and room to throw a party so Eric can presumably meet some of the 'important' people Catlett knows. Among the guests are Joan Blondell and a bevy of her chorus girl friends.
But things go terribly wrong and one of the girls, Josephine Dunn, winds up dead. When that happens the guests scatter with Catlett the first out the door and Blondell the last, leaving poor Linden holding the bag. Of course Linden panics and spends the next day a fugitive looking for Blondell.
Mervyn LeRoy directs Big City Blues at a sprightly pace and when you've got players like Blondell, Bogey, Catlett, and most of all Guy Kibbee playing an oaf of a house detective you know the film will be entertaining. In fact down the cast list you've got Herman Bing as a waiter, Lyle Talbot as another party guest, J. Carrol Naish as the supplying bootlegger, and Dennis O'Keefe in a small bit in a crap game and more besides, you're in for a real treat if you're like me, a big fan of the days when all these faces ruled films. Dick Powell is heard only as a radio announcer.
Kibbee by the way turns out to be the hero of the film, but you have to see it to see how he accomplishes that. And of course you have to see what happens to naive young Eric Linden.
Some nice blue cracks in this before the Code film pepper Big City Blues throughout the running time. Although one very big screen legend was in the cast, the film is actually a real salute to some of the great character players the movies ever had.