Stereotypes run amuck in this Warner Brothers pre-code from 1933. Yet it is these categorizations that make this pre-code interesting to watch. It begins on the Lower East Side of New York, Orchard Street to be specific, an ethnic neighborhood which at various times was filled with Jewish, German, Italian and Puerto Rican immigrants among others. The script focuses on an Italian family. Tony has called for a doctor, his wife is giving birth, and he’s crying for help. An ambulance arrives with a doctor in tow, our heroine, Mary Stevens (Kay Francis). Tony is shocked. My God, the doctor is a woman! No, no, no, he wants a real doctor…a man! Having already lost one child, he threatens Mary with a machete if she fails to help his wife through to a successful birth. Mary locks herself in the bedroom with the expectant mother while Tony is being restrained by the police (called earlier by the frightened ambulance driver). As expected, the baby is successfully delivered and all is well. This short opening scene reveals how far we have come in our labeling of people and yet it also reveals how far we still have to go. I am sure there are still men out there who do not want to be treated by a female doctor just because she is a woman. Continue reading
Check out my fifith of seven entries I am writing for the Musical Countdown being hosted by WONDERS IN THE DARK. Here is the link.
The team of Cagney and Blondell never reached the iconic level of Tracy and Hepburn though these two Warner Brothers stars set off plenty of sparks in their six films together. Released in 1934 just short of the start date for the newly enforced policing of Hollywood sinema, ‘He Was Her Man’ is a slight but entertaining drama from the most street wise of Hollywood studios. Both stars play it low-key in this downbeat story, with Cagney even sporting a mustache.
The plot evolves around Flicker Hayes (Cagney) recently released from jail and seeking revenge on the gang members who set him up to take the rap. Not expecting Flicker to be vindictive, his former buddies include him in on a new job. He squeals to the police on the plan, a drug company’s safe, resulting in one of the gang members being caught and sentenced to die in the electric chair. To avoid getting bumped off for his revenge driven deed, Flicker skips town settling in San Francisco where he meets down and out former prostitute Rose Lawrence (Blondell) who is on her way to a small fishing village to marry Nick Gardella (Victor Jory), a respectable fisherman she met who loves her despite her immoral past. A couple of the gang members come west on a tip to find Flicker who decided to take Rose to the fishing village figuring the small out of the way town is a good place to hide. Flicker and Rose don’t plan it but they fall in love.
The gang members soon manage to track Flicker down at the seaside village, only they want to kill Rose also figuring she knows too much. Flicker, who she only knows by his alias Jerry Allan, convinces the thugs Rose knows nothing of his past and if they agree to leave her alone he’ll go with them. As the film concludes, Flicker and his two assassins drive off toward the ocean where they will do their dirty deed. Rose marries the kindly Nick as the film comes to a rather poignant conclusion.
Despite the movie’s final wedding scene, the film ends on a despondent note with our gangster hero going off to his death. Cagney is subdued in this film and fans who like the hyperactive Jimmie may be disappointed. Blondell in a rare lead role is also fairly subdued as Rose avoiding her usual perky wise cracking style. Victor Jory does well as Nick Gardella, the Portuguese fisherman in love with Blondell. As a pre-code film, it met the standard sinful requirements in a few instances. First Bondell’s character makes it clear she was selling herself to survive and that wedding dress she wears at the end of the film is low cut enough to qualify for 2009. There is also, early in the film, a scene when Cagney’s character is squealing to the cops, telling them that the drug company going to be robbed is loaded with “junk and nose candy.”
Directed by Warner’s studio director Lloyd Bacon, the film lacks the kind of action most folks expect from a Warner’s gangster film. Its countryside by the seas location instead of the big city is also a change of pace from what is generally expected. While this is not a must see, it is worth a look and Cagney and Blondell completist will be pleased.
Unlike “The Oklahoma Kid” starring James Cagney and directed by Lloyd Bacon, “Frisco Kid” starring James Cagney and directed by Lloyd Bacon is not a western. “Frisco Kid” takes place in San Francisco’s vice and violent teeming Barbary Coast. Here Bat Morgan (James Cagney) is a sailor just arriving in town fresh from another voyage. He soon is shanghaied by powerful gang leader Spider Burke (Barton McLane). With the help of a friendly Jewish tailor, Bat overcomes Spider and sends him off to sea instead. Bat returns to the saloon run by the crooked Paul Morra (Ricardo Cortez) where he meets up with Shanghai Duck (Fred Kohler) who arranged the deal for Bat to be shanghaied. He confronts Shanghai, who has a lethal hook in place of his missing right hand, and they get into a ferocious fight that is one of the highlights of the film. Bat kills Shanghai, impressing Morra who offers him a job as a bouncer working in his saloon. However, Bat has bigger ideas and soon becomes the boss of the Barbary Coast running a crooked casino and getting in with crooked politicians to take over the city. Bat meets Jean Barret (Margaret Lindsay) who runs the San Francisco newspaper and is trying to clean up the Barbary Coast along with the help of Judge Crawford. Judge Crawford (Robert McWade) who seems to be the only honest man in town is soon murdered resulting in Bat being accused of the murder. Barbary Coast citizens are now outraged by the murder they want to clean up the city and resorting to a murderous mob rule, they hang Morra. Bat is spared the same faith with when Jean Barret realizes, after numerous denials that she love hooligan Bat and pleads for his life.
When the film opened in 1935 at the Strand Theater on Broadway, the New York Times gave it a good review calling Cagney’s character “a violent Irishmen who became the Al Capone of San Francisco’s vice district.” However, many critics were not impressed comparing it unfavorable to Howard Hawk’s “Barbary Coast” with Edward G. Robinson and Miriam Hopkins which opened a month earlier the same year. ” “Frisco Kid” is a typical Warner Brothers programmer and not one of their best efforts. The film starts okay but is uneven and at times seems rushed. Bat Morgan’s rise to the top and the building of his grand saloon seem to happen quickly. Cagney and Margaret Lindsay do not seem to have much spark between them. Most of their scenes fall flat. Director Lloyd Bacon and his crew do a nice job of creating the salty fog bound atmosphere of the Barbary Coast and the scenes of the fiery lynch mob are exiting and well done. Other cast members include Barton McLane, Lili Damita and Ricardo Cortez whose performance as rotten saloon owner Paul Morra is worth watching this film for by itself.