A sentimental look backward to Chicago of 1910, based on Ben Hecht's colorful journalistic memories, this film is at first directed with care and style, then slowly erodes into mindless slapstick for a predictable Hollywood ending. Bridges, playing the young Hecht, is shown at the Galena,
Illinois, Fourth of July celebration, where he is enamored of lucious Johnson, mistress of Chicago political bigwig Kennedy, who passes her off as his niece. Bridges later journeys to Chicago to seek his fame and fortune. A naive rube, he gets his pocket picked and is soon so hungry that he steals
a little girl's ice cream cone. While fleeing the scene of the crime, he is almost run over by the touring car in which wealthy madam Mercouri is riding. She takes Bridges in, putting him up at her lavish bordello, where Bridges later entertains Mercouri's girls with the stories he intends to
write. (Unwittingly, Hecht actually did take a room in a brothel when first arrived in Chicago.) Mercouri asks her ne'er-do-well newsman lover Keith to take the boy under his wing; then she arranges a job for Bridges at sensation-seeking Chicago Journal, where he is put to work as a
"picture-chaser," sneakily taking photos of persons involved in crimes and scandals. After a few wild adventures, Bridges learns quickly the ways of the street, and Keith, the hard-drinking Irish newsman, completes his education by taking Bridges on a tour of Chicago's great saloons, getting him
tipsy and explaining that there are good crooks like Cronyn, who want to share the spoils, and bad thieves like Kennedy, who want it all for themeselves. Later, at a party held by Mercouri, Bridges watches Cronyn bury his face in a cake resembling the city treasury, and Holcombe, playing poet Carl
Sandburg, recites one his odes to Chicago. Kidder, who is one of Mercouri's girls and who is in love with Bridges, manages to get a hold of Cronyn's "Big Mitt Ledger," a hand-written notebook in which Cronyn has recorded every bribe and kickback taken by every important politician in Illinois.
When Bridges discovers he has been living in a whorehouse and that all about him are corrupt, he goes berserk, stealing the ledger from Kidder, who immediately gives up prostitution and joins the Salvation Army. Everyone goes after Bridges and the ledger. Kennedy tries to wheedle it out of him;
his sexy mistress Johnson attempts to seduce Bridges to get it. Naturally, Cronyn and his forces also try to obtain the ledger, chasing Bridges about the city until, trapped on an upraised bridge, the youth falls into the river and is presumed drowned. However, he is saved by a quack who injects
adrenaline into him. Bridges' rescuer is same crackpot who earlier tried to revive, at Keith's insistence, a hanged murderer (a stunt Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur actually performed in the glory days of Chicago journalism). Bridges witnesses his own funeral, then shocks one and all by
appearing. Another scramble for the ledger ends with Mercouri given the dangerous document for safekeeping. Bridges winds up with Kidder and the film ends on a happy note.
Director Jewison does a marvelous job of capturing Chicago's great historic landmarks in this lavish production. Keith is a funny, lovable standout as the alcoholic, reckless reporter, and Mercouri is exotic and mysterious, but most of the cast do poor caricatures of their roles. Kidder is
unconvincing, Kennedy is all huff-and-puff, and Johnson's acting is nonexistant. On the other hand, Cronyn excels as the sleazy politician, his overacting actually enhancing his part, while Hyde-White is memorable as the venal governor. The whole film falls apart in the middle when Jewison
abandons a tight and historically alluring story for a Keystone Kops conclusion in which all the style and wit that demonstrated early in the film are dumped for scant belly laughs. Nominated by the Academy for Best Art Direction, Best Sound, and Best Costume Design. There are some charming but
lightweight tunes scattered throughout the aimless script, including "Gaily, Gaily," "Xmas Eve on Skid Row," "The Tango I Saved for You," (Henry Mancini), "Sentimental Dream," "Tomorrow Is My Friend," (sung by Jimmie Rodgers), "There's Enough to Go Around" (Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Mancini, sung
by Mercouri). leave a comment