8 July 2012 | jayraskin1
Not a Classic, but Reasonably Entertaining
I viewed this on Netflix yesterday.
The production values are quite a bit better than almost any "Republic" picture I have ever seen. It is still not Warner Brothers, but it comes reasonably close.
The film has two genuine stars Lew Ayres and Helen Mack and a reasonably good supporting cast. The cinematography and editing are quite good.
This could have been a great and classic movie, but there are some big problems. The biggest is that the movie is a serious social drama in the "Dead End" tradition for the first 45 minutes, then switches to broad, almost slapstick, comedy for 15 minutes, before turning into melodrama for the last 10 minutes. My best guess about this odd mix is that someone got scared at "Republic" that they were producing an art film that audiences wouldn't like and decided to throw in some "hilarious" material. The comedy isn't bad, it is just that it does not belong in this movie.
Lew Ayres is a terrific actor, as anyone who has seen "Johnny Belinda" or "All Quiet on the Western Front" can testify. However, he seems tentative in his performance here. In a couple of scenes, he seems almost to be doing a James Cagney impression. Possibly, the director told him to do it like Cagney and Ayres did it exactly like Cagney. In most scenes he is fine. Helen Mack does not look as good as she does in "She" or "Milk Way," but that may be the part. She is a tough gal trying to climb out of the mean streets of 11th Avenue in New York. It makes sense that she looks rough rather than glamorous. At one point, she does a "going mad" scene that comes out of nowhere and seems more bizarre than powerful. I guess the build up to the scene got left on the cutting room floor.
In any case the movie is interesting and worth watching. At least for a few minutes it foreshadows Citizen Kane (1941) in the wonderful montage sequences of Jerry Flynn building his newspaper empire. There's a very sweet scene with Alison Skipworth who plays Flynn's Foster mother Nora. She intervenes with a judge just when the judge is about to give Flynn three years in jail for hitting a cop. Skipworth hits some nice notes in the scene. Sheila Bromley does a good job with her small role as a high society women who has a fling with Flynn.
The movie should have been a classic gangster film with good gangster Flynn battling bad gangster Wire Arno (Victor Varconi). The problem was perhaps the new enforced Hayes Code (1936) which cracked down on violence in movies. Instead of people being shot, we just have some scuffles and fights. Also, it is about good gangster Flynn muscling in on bad gangster Wire's territory -- horse racing. It is a rather odd plot development that takes away some sympathy from the hero. It is a little confusing why they decided to switch from the standard formula of having the bad bad guy trying to take over the good bad guy's action. See "the Roaring Twenties" for example, where Humphrey Bogart takes over James Cagney's taxi enterprise.
Anyways, the movie is reasonably fast paced and entertaining at one hour and nine minutes, but it is not the classic it should/could have been.