THE CROWD ROARS (Warner Brothers, 1932), directed by Howard Hawks, is a fast-pace drama revolving around auto racing at the Indianapolis speedway as indicated prior to the opening credits with racing cars speeding down the track as one goes out of control, causing the crowd at the grand stand to rise from their seats and, hence the title, the crowd roars! Starring James Cagney, whose gangster/tough guy image emerged with his ground breaking title role as THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931), continues to play a tough guy, this time from behind the wheel aiming for the finish line.
The story, written by its director, with screen adaptation by Kubec Glasmon, John Bright, Seton I. Miller and Niven Bush, finds Joe Greer (James Cagney), a three time Indianapolis driving champion, returning to his home town by train to meet with his kid brother, Eddie (Eric Linden) and Pop (Guy Kibbee), whom he hasn't seen in four years. Although loved by his mistress, Lee Merrick (Ann Dvorak - in her Warner Brothers debut), and much to her resentment, Joe intends on keeping their relationship a secret. However, Eddie, who hero worships Joe, wants to be a race car driver just like him. At first Joe tries to discourage him, but eventually paves the way for him in the racing game. Their relationship as brothers falters when Eddie encounters Lee's best friend, Ann Scott (Joan Blondell), a woman with a reputation. Going against Joe's orders, Ann goes after Eddie in spite, but instead, falls in love and marries him. During one of their races, Spud Connors (Frank McHugh), Joe's relief driver and best friend, tries to prevent the feuding brothers from going against each other on the track by driving between them, but is killed in the process, causing Joe to hit the skids while Eddie takes Joe's former title as championship racer. Regardless of how he put her aside, Lee makes every effort to locate Joe, who has disappeared from view.
Also appearing in the cast are Charlotte Merriam (Ruth Connors); Ronnie Cosbey (Mike Connors); and Edward McWade (Tom Beal), whose roles go without credit. Guy Kibbee, who seems to have appeared in every Warner Brothers production at that time, is seen only during the film's initial 10 minutes, by which then his Pop Greer character drifts out of the story and never seen or mentioned again.
THE CROWD ROARS has the great distinction for having its racing scenes filmed on location at Indianapolis at Ventura and Ascot race tracks rather than rear projection from inside of the studio, as well as having actual auto drivers, William Arnold, Ralph Hepburn, Leo Nomis, Stubby Stubblefield and Shorty Cantlon, appearing briefly as themselves, some whose scenes are handicapped by their weak acting. As much as the leading actors work well together, particularly the conceded Cagney along with the weakling kid brother-type, Linden. it seems a pity that the individual dramatic scenes enacted by Ann Dvorak and Joan Blondell were not handled on a more natural or convincing level. Their emotional screeching outbursts (Blondell's repeated lines to Cagney, "Tell him!") weakens what what might emerged as one of the film's strong points. This sort of "over-the-top" acting might have been common practice at the time, considering how director Hawks worked the same method on Dvorak's emotions opposite Paul Muni in the crime drama, SCARFACE (United Artists, 1932). Later in 1932, Dvorak appeared in possibly her finest performance captured on film in THREE ON A MATCH opposite Joan Blondell, while Blondell and Linden would re-team again in the rarely seen BIG CITY BLUES, where Linden was the central character.
In 1938, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a film titled THE CROWD ROARS starring Robert Taylor and Maureen O'Sullivan, which was not a remake but another well made sports theme revolving around professional boxing. However, Warners did remake its own CROWD ROARS as INDIANAPOLIS SPEEDWAY (1939) starring Pat O'Brien, Ann Sheridan, Gale Page, John Payne in the Cagney, Blondell, Dvorak and Linden roles, with Frank McHugh playing "Spud" Connors once again. Comparing both films, whenever presented on Turner Classic Movies, the remake, being 15 minutes longer than the original's 70 minute length, plays better acting wise by its actresses, though the earlier version is better served due to the charisma of Cagney, which explains why the original played longer on commercial television in the New York City area up to the mid 1980s than INDIANAPOLIS SPEEDWAY, which ceased TV circulation around the late 1960s. Besides some good racing sequences and cast of familiar Warner Brothers stock players, THE CROWD ROARS is rather ordinary material made good by Cagney's dynamic appeal. (***)