Manhattan Melodrama

1934, Movie, NR, 93 mins

Review

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A splendid example of 1930s hardboiled melodrama, notable historically for two very different reasons: it marked the first of 14 pairings of the legendary team of William Powell and Myrna Loy, and it also reportedly marked legendary gangster John Dillinger for death--literally. A big Myrna Loy fan, Dillinger sneaked into the Biograph Theatre on July 22, 1934 to watch her in this film. He was spotted, the police were called, and he was gunned down after the picture was over.

Two boys (played by Jimmy Butler and a pre-stardom Mickey Rooney) are saved from a fire on a tour boat which claims the lives of their parents. Taken in by the kindly Jewish merchant Papa Rosen (Sidney), the boys become fast pals even though Jim (Butler) is upstanding and studious and Blackie (Rooney) regularly cuts school to shoot craps. Years later, Blackie (Gable) has, as might be expected, become New York's biggest gambler and racketeer and Jim (Powell) has, as might be expected, become a crusading prosecuting attorney for the Big Apple. Loy enters the picture as Blackie's girlfriend Eleanor, an educated woman who doesn't believe her man is really bad at heart. Will Blackie end up going to the electric chair for murder? Will Jim end up in the governor's mansion? Will Eleanor end up in Jim's arms? Considering all the THIN MAN movies that followed, it's not hard to answer the third question, but the twisty variations wreaked on the admittedly unoriginal plot premise make the ride worthwhile.

Director W.S. ("Woody") Van Dyke II directs with all the breezy assurance which distinguished so many of his films, and the screenplay by Garrett and Mankiewicz is fully of tasty one-liners. Gable (as the most sympathetic crook imaginable) and Powell (virtue never looked so good) perform the male-bonding routine with gusto, and Loy has great rapport with both her co-stars. (Don't forget that she made seven films with Gable.) The plot would go on to inspire such other well-remembered efforts as ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, but this early rendition is still well worth catching. leave a comment

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