25 August 2012 | AlsExGal
Why isn't this precode better known?
Edward G. Robinson is practically the whole show, and what a show it is. This is Warner precode drama at its best, and why I never heard of it until I saw it on TCM is a wonder. It's got everything, from the seemingly mismatched roommates, thoughtful John (Edward G. Robinson) and gregarious Budd (Preston Foster), talking about scoring on a date in the most unsubtle of language while riveting on a tall skyscraper, to a barracuda in high heels, Shirley (Vivienne Osborne), who has her eyes on John's $62.50 a week from the start and tailors her act to suit his highest admiration - education and books. She tells John she's working in a dance hall to help support her folks so she can have time to study at night, and even the audience is not sure about her at first, so you're sympathetic with John for him not knowing either. However, it's not just John's steady paycheck Shirley's after. There was one true thing she told John before they were married - she has ambitions. As she tells a broken John later on - in wallet and spirit - "there are things a Mrs. can get away with that a Miss can't".
With Mervyn Leroy you'd expect superb direction, and that's what you get. This is so stylishly shot too. Even though there are no expensive sets - after all this is 1932 WB we're talking about - a lot is done with a little. Take the scene in the courtroom with only the sound of a fan at first, Eddie G. in what looks like a spotlight with the rest of the courtroom dark except for the judge's face - we're talking prototype noir here both in substance and style. From the baby face of William Janney that we see in the first frame to that same face full of wonder in the last, this thing is expertly constructed as the flashback of a man about to be executed who has "two seconds" to live his life over from the time the electricity floods his body until his brain stops functioning. Highly recommended.
Best precode moment:Shirley has dragged a drunken - but now married - John back to his apartment. Her first act as John's wife is to kick Bud out for good. Before Bud even has packed his stuff and left, Shirley is stripping down to her undies. Mind you, this is a one room flat. You can only assume she is going to consummate this marriage pronto before John has a chance to sober up and cry "annulment". As a parting shot of regard Bud finishes a cigarette he is smoking and tosses it on to her already bare back as she is raring to go as soon as Bud is out of the room...that is, I'd assume she'd wait until he left the room! Hot stuff from WB.