Love is a Racket (William A Wellman, 1932)

Frances Dee and Douglas Fairbanks Jr

Countless movies from the 1930s feature fast-talking, fast-living  journalists, armed with battered old typewriters, phones and bottles of whiskey. Some of these reporters are fearlessly determined to expose corruption at any cost. Others, however, are quite the opposite, and the (anti)hero of Wellman’s quirky romantic comedy-melodrama Love Is a Racket is a case in point. Gossip columnist Jimmy Russell, played by a very young and handsome Douglas Fairbanks Jr, isn’t interested in putting his neck on the line. When he hears about a juicy story involving New York mobsters fixing the price of milk, he can’t get to the phone fast enough…  to keep it out of the paper!

This is one of six movies made by Wellman in 1932, during his amazingly prolific pre-Code days. Made under contract at Warner, it has the studio’s gritty style, but is also stamped with the director’s personality, as it lurches from witty dialogue to  black humour, practical jokes and slapstick. Also, about half the film seems to take place in torrential rain, Wellman’s favourite type of weather. There’s a great cast, with Lee Tracy, the original stage star of  The Front Page, as Fairbanks’ best buddy and newspaper colleague, Frances Dee as our hero’s on-off girlfriend, and Ann Dvorak, one of my favourite 1930s actresses, in a sadly small role as his pal who wants to be something more. Even with all this going for it, this film isn’t on DVD as yet and is one of the director’s more obscure early works. But it has recently been shown on TCM in the US, so there must be  a chance it will soon get released on Warner Archive.

Continue reading

College Coach (1933)

Pat O'Brien and Ann Dvorak

As a Brit who isn’t a great sport fan, I’ll admit I’m in difficulties when watching any movie about American football – since, as soon as the players head for the pitch, I can’t really work out what on earth is going on. Nevertheless, I was pleased to track down a copy of this William A Wellman pre-Code starring Pat O’Brien as a college football coach – and featuring a 23-second appearance by a very young and uncredited John Wayne! I’m just editing this posting  (on October 6) to say that this title is now out on Warner Archive. (This was actually his second football-themed film – the first, Eleven Men and a Girl (1930), a comedy starring Joe E Brown, was also issued on Warner Archive recently.)

Anyway, back to the rules of American football, and my failure to understand them. I know that a  touchdown is similar to a try in rugby, but that’s about as far as I’ve managed to get. I did try looking up the Wikipedia page about the rules but found it impenetrable. Therefore, I’m afraid my review of this satirical comedy-drama will be lacking – but, even though I found the action on the pitch bewildering, there was plenty to enjoy regarding the politics and corruption behind the scenes, much of which seems all too relevant to modern-day sport too. There is also some enjoyably sharp hard-boiled dialogue – as well as some startlingly amoral pre-Code plot twists.

Continue reading

Scarface (1932)

This is a contribution to the Early Hawks Blog-a-thon being hosted at Ed Howard’s Only the Cinema blog.

There are famous shootouts and violent episodes in The Public Enemy and Little Caesar. But I’d have to say they don’t come anywhere near the relentless violence of Howard Hawks’ powerful gangster movie Scarface. From the arresting scene near the start where Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) is seen in silhouette gunning down his boss,  Big Louis, the film seems to be riddled through with machine-gun fire.

I do have some mixed feelings about the film and think there are problems with it, which I’ll come on to later, not least Muni’s terrible Italian accent – but it’s second to none in showing the devastating effects of gang warfare in the streets.  

scarface21

Spoilers below cut

Continue reading

The Crowd Roars (1932)

I was very keen to see this  pre-code movie, after reading glowing accounts of it in a couple of books, but it proved difficult to track down. However in the end I was able to get hold of a recording from TV – I do hope that this and the other early Cagneys will eventually be released on official DVDs, in fully-restored prints, but am very glad to have this copy in the meantime.

I found it a powerful film, with wonderful acting from Cagney and Ann Dvorak in particular, and am puzzled as to why it isn’t better-known – especially as a top director like Howard Hawks was at the helm. You’d think there would be a demand for it just because of the racing footage, let alone the acting.  As with the other reviews on this blog so far, I originally posted this on livejournal, but have reworked it a bit. I also now (December 2008) have a better copy and have noticed a couple of errors in what I’ve written, so am adjusting accordingly.

Spoilers behind the cut, plus more pictures

Continue reading