2 February 2015 | AlsExGal
Very sweet romance of the Depression
Honestly, I never really cared for the roles Francis Lederer played, until I watched this film. He is just perfect as the optimistic Czech immigrant, Karel Novak, who is so glad to be landing in America. The Great Depression doesn't scare him, he's willing to do anything and figures he can triumph over any adversity. Fate is about to hand him that chance as he faces just about every adversity an immigrant can face. First he arrives in New York with less than the money required to get in - he thought it was fifty dollars, instead it is two hundred. Instead of being deported, he jumps out of the window of the cabin he is confined in and gets ashore before he can be discovered missing.
Hungry and broke, Karel is befriended by chorine Sylvia (Ginger Rogers), when she spots him chowing down on the donuts and coffee that she and the other girls in the show were breakfasting on. Although not dismal, Sylvia is realistic about how hard times are. An orphan and only 19 herself, Sylvia is taking care of a younger brother, Frank, who is going to be put in an orphanage if he skips school again. Frank is not skipping school to hang out with some local gang though, he just wants to work selling more papers to help out his big sister whom he can see is working so hard to support them both. Karel helps Sylvia see life a bit differently, through the eyes of an immigrant who is so happy to be in bustling New York where he believes anybody can become a millionaire.
So Frank, Sylvia, and Karel become a real threesome. Karel sells papers during the day, then gets a job as a taxi driver, and things are looking up. He's hoping to get the two hundred dollars together to give the immigration people before they catch up to him, and his bank balance is rising. But then everything begins to go wrong. There is a taxi strike and Karel is forced off the job with no pay while the strike drags on. The show Sylvia was dancing in closes, and Karel offers to help out and plunders his entire bank account covering living costs. Finally, Frank skips school AGAIN to sell papers and help out, but this time he is going to be sent to the orphanage. Worst of all a crooked lawyer plays on Karel's lack of knowledge of the law and sells out Karel to the immigration people, so he is facing deportation again.
So how is this not the most depressing film ever? Because it is a love story - that of two people trying to make it in New York in slim times - Karel and Sylvia - slowly and convincingly falling in love and having great chemistry together. It's also the story of an unconventional family unit of three - Karel, Sylvia, and Frank - who would do anything for one another. I'll let you watch and see how this all works out.
It's a heartwarming tale of a different New York from decades ago - one full of boarding houses, cops on the beat who knew everyone in the neighborhood, when donuts and coffee were considered a hearty breakfast, and people largely had good intentions. It's one of my sentimental favorites.