8 September 2014 | melvelvit-1
Song, dance, danger, and romance in B'way roman-a-clef
Manhattan mobster Frank Rocci (Paul Kelly) helps out a childhood friend by getting her sister Joan Whelan (Constance Cummings) a job as a chorine in Tex Kaley's (Texas Guinan) nightclub and quickly falls in love with her. He buys the place so's he can showcase Joan in a Max Mefoofski (Gregory Ratoff) revue which makes her a star and out of gratitude, she agrees to marry him. Before the wedding can take place, however, rival racketeer Tim Crowley (C. Henry Gordon) makes an attempt on Rocci's life so he shuffles Joan off to Miami with her motherly girlfriend Sybil Smith (Blossom Seely) and both gals promptly fall in love: Joan with crooner Clark Brian (radio heartthrob Russ Columbo) and Sybil with his busom buddy, the none-too-bright Peanuts Dinwiddie (Hobart Cavanaugh). Rocci gets wind of it and orders Joan back to New York and Clark, hot on her heels, humbly asks Rocci for Joan's hand. The tough-guy touchingly gives his consent but when Crowley's gang kidnaps the bride on her wedding day, bloodshed, sacrifice, and hope lie ahead...
Broadway reporter-at-large Walter Winchell's saga of song, dance, danger, and romance so closely resembled the real life love triangle between entertainer Al Jolson, hoofer Ruby Keeler, and racketeer Johnny "Irish" Costello that Jolson punched Winchell out when he saw him at a Hollywood Legion prize fight, causing the columnist to sue for $500,000. The Fox film (a Darryl Zanuck Production) opens with a POV peek thru a keyhole that becomes a montage of the Great White Way (called "The Stem" at the time) where the underworld really can meet the elite. There's plenty of musical numbers on display and a couple of them are fairly inventive including tuxedo-clad songstress Frances Williams' rousing rendition of "Doin' The Uptown Lowdown" and a Busby Berkeley-style number with hoola hoops and crotch shots. There's also a romantic duet by handsome Russ Columbo and pretty little Constance Cummings, who's later seen in a transparent dress. Since it's Pre-Code, Connie's in step-ins a lot, too, and un-PC moments include a typical-for-the-time gay stereotype and derogatory slang for Jews. There's quite a bit of double intendre gender-bending going on as well- bits include Seely, dressed in a man's suit and fedora, puffs on a cigar and kisses her gangster boyfriend (after which the guy wipes his mouth) and handsome milquetoast Russ Columbo (he nearly swoons over a cut to his finger) has a too close relationship with his pal Dinwiddie, predicting the one shared by John Hodiak & Wendell Cory in DESERT FURY over a decade later.
As this film shows, silent leading man Lowell Sherman quickly became a capable director at the advent of talkies and he remained so until his untimely death in December, 1934. The British-born Constance Cummings was a popular leading lady for a couple of years in the early '30s and in addition to a top-notch supporting cast, the Broadway luminaries on hand included notorious "Queen Of The Speakeasies" Texas Guinan, the Sophie Tucker-ish Blossom Seely, singer/dancer Frances Williams, Eddie Foy, Jr., Abe Lyman & His Orchestra, and Winchell himself. Young Lucille Ball has a bit as a Miami Beach golddigger as does Ann Sothern & Susan Fleming (soon-to-be Mrs. Harpo Marx) as chorines. Lots of fun!