After getting two Oscars in a row, Big City must have been a let down for Luise Rainer. This must have been Louis B. Mayer's way of "punishing" a recalcitrant star. Probably the reason Ms. Rainer left Hollywood rather abruptly.
Big City is an average programmer with the distinction of having Frank Borzage direct it, a man who specialized in bittersweet romances. Rainer is the wife of Spencer Tracy a cab driver. The drivers for his company are in a taxi war with another company that employs the strong arm goon squad of William Demarest. This is one of the few times that Bill Demarest ever played a serious villain. What Tracy's bunch doesn't know is that Demarest has a mole with Tracy's company.
When Victor Varconi who is Luise Rainer's brother attempts to infiltrate, he's killed by a bomb and it's made to look like Rainer and he cooked up a plot that Varconi got caught up in. Since she's six weeks shy of being a citizen, the politicians get the brilliant idea of making the whole thing go away by having her deported. So Tracy and the rest of his crew hide her out. Rainer is also very much pregnant.
In the climax of the film which involves a number of former boxing champions headed by Jack Dempsey joining with Tracy's drivers to best the Demarest bunch every Hollywood cliché you can think of is thrown into the film. Let's just say that several things personal and political all get resolved in one finale.
Tracy is fine as the working class hero of the group. Tracy was never bad in anything at least anything he did after he signed with MGM, I can't speak for his earlier work with Fox, I haven't seen most of it. Rainer won her Oscar for The Great Ziegfeld with a telephone scene and of course they give her another one. Her she's talking to the mayor, played by Charley Grapewin, telling him that she will give herself up to be deported to prevent all the cabdrivers who work with her husband from going to jail for obstruction of justice.
I get the feeling that Big City may have been made to publicize Jack Dempsey's new restaurant. After Dempsey quit fighting in the early Thirties, he got some backers and opened up a restaurant located at Broadway and West 50th Street. When I was growing up in the Fifties by that time it was a premier Broadway night spot and I did eat there with my family on one occasion.
Maybe they should have gotten an actor who was a little more like Fiorello La Guardia than Charley Grapewin. But seeing all the old champions of yesteryear is nice even today.
Tracy was between Oscars with Captains Courageous behind him and Boys Town in front of him. He must have wondered what he was doing in a routine programmer as well. But Tracy was nothing if not professional and he's just fine.
Big City is not a bad film, it's really good nostalgia. But it is sure beneath the talents of its leads.
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