This is an odd little hard-to-find gem with a feel-good quality about it. It also has uneven content - part prison film, part gangster film, part band-on-the road film, yet it works and works well.
The film opens with a prison band in concert with band leader Ken Conrad (Ben Bernie) visiting at the invitation of the warden (Robert Emmett O'Conner). It turns out the real reason for the invitation is for the warden to plug the soon-to-be-freed Ray Ferraro (George Raft) as a possible new musician for Conrad's band. The warden's plan works, and Ray has a job with the band on release as a saxophone player. When the band's featured male dancer gets drunk before a show, Ray has that job too. Raft was a very good dancer, and why a double is used for long-shots in the dance scenes I don't know. Ray is, in fact, reformed. He wants nothing more than to make good in his new job, plus he has a new romantic interest in the person of his new dance partner.
Unfortunately, one of Ray's old gang recognizes him during one of their tour stops and proposes the idea that they rob the band of its cash receipts. Ferraro just punches the guy and tells him nothing doing. Thus when the band is robbed a short time later, Ray knows exactly who did it and where to find him. He retrieves the money and punches the guy out, but the real robber escapes just in time for the police to bust in and find Ray alone with the money. The police return Ray and the money to Conrad, who tells the police he believes Ray's story, but in fact he doesn't and neither does the rest of the band, since Ray has never told anyone about the real robber's proposition.
With everyone in the band giving him the brush off, Ray decides to leave the band at the next stop. However, before the bus gets to the next town, they have both a flat tire and the misfortune of running into the outlaw Burrage gang, here headed by a very nasty Lloyd Nolan as Chesty Burrage. The Burrage gang recognize Ray from his criminal days and ask him to join them while they are ransacking the bus and abducting the band. Here Ray has a chance to get even with a group that has wrongly judged him, or he just might save the day - but how, with the gang threatening to shoot Conrad if anyone gets out of line?
Before you get to the gangster part of the film, there is a chance to see some very good and strange entertainment. Bernie is really playing himself as band leader Ken Conrad, and thus you see and hear some traditional big band numbers as well as a strange little skit that is a cross between vaudeville and Hee Haw, with one of the male band members dressed in drag as a lady in distress. Since I don't know much about Ben Bernie's act, I don't know if any of this is close to his real act or not. The music of Gordon and Revel is played throughout the film with the peppy and optimistic little "Let's Spill the Beans" being most prominent.
If you want to be cheered up I can't recommend this film enough to cure what ails you. It's an uncomplicated little tale in which the good guys are really good and the bad guys are awful.
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