Riffraff (1936) J. Walter Ruben

A young Spencer Tracy plays Dutch Miller, a highly arrogant, egotistical blow hard of a fisherman with the ability to lead men ever since he was a kid. He commemorates his marriage to the pretty cannery row beauty, Hattie (Jean Harlow) by quitting his job and encouraging his fellow fishermen to go out on strike. When the labor battle is lost, Dutch is tossed out as union President and with his oversized ego in hand, and no job, goes off leaving his wife and former friends to prove he can be a success. Later, Hattie learns the Dutchman is not doing well and is living in a hobo camp. She steals some money for him, but the ego driven Dutch refuses to accept her help or even see her. Hattie is soon caught for the thief and sent to prison. Pregnant with Dutch’s child on the way, Hattie escapes from prison. When Dutch learns about his child he has a sudden epiphany, coming to the realization being a good fisherman is good enough. He doesn’t have to conquer the world.

“Riffraff” is a paranoid piece of entertainment, written by Francis Marion, Anita Loos and H.W. Hanmann, based on a story by Marion. The film cannot make up its mind whether it wants to be a raucous waterfront comedy or a social drama dealing with issues of union labor, evil management and women behind bars. This is where the main problem with the film is, in the writing. Tracy’s character is not believable and his turn around at the end is just too quick and unconvincing. Continue reading

Where Are They? Baby Face Nelson (1957)

An occasional series on missing films. They are rarely, if ever, shown on TV and have never been released on video in any form. If anyone has any knowledge where these films have been shown, TV, a film festival or in a basement in your house please let me know.

 

The next film in this series is “Baby Face Nelson” directed by Don Siegel.

 

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Siegel’s other films include the original 1956 verison of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”,  “Coogan’s Bluff”, “Madigan”, “Dirty Harry”, “Two Mules for Sister Sara”, “The Shootist” and many other great films. Mickey Rooney stars in the 1957 film about the violent and uncontrollable Baby Face Nelson, bank robber and killer. His real name was Lester Gillis and he became a member of John Dillinger’s gang participating in numerous crime sprees. After Dillinger’s death outside a movie house, Nelson became Public Enemy Number 1.

 

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The film co-stars Leo Gordon as John Dillinger who starred earlier in another rare Siegel film, “Riot in Cellblock 11.” The film also co-stars Carolyn Jones as Sue, Nelson’s girlfriend.

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In 2006, the Film Forum in New York City had a Don Siegel retrospective and “Baby Face Nelson” was given a rare showing. Elliot Stein in a review of the series in the Village Voice, said, “a ferocious Mickey Rooney gives the finest dramatic performance of his career.”

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 The film received mostly negative reviews when first released (see New York Times review here ) however, since then the film has been praised by many film critics for Rooney’s performance and it violent action scenes. See this short review in the Chicago Reader.

 

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The late 1950’s and early 1960’s saw a rash of low budget gangster films. Along with “Baby Face Nelson”, there was “Al Capone”, “Machine Gun Kelly”,  “The Purple Gang”, “The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond” and “Mad Dog Coll.”

 

 

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In addtion to the Film Forum Don Siegel retrospective, “Baby Face Nelson” has been shown at a few other venues including a 2005 salute to Don Siegel at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The real question is when will this film be released on home video or shown on TCM?

 

In fact, many of Siegel’s film are among the missing, the previously mentioned “Riot in Cell Block 11”, the teenage gang film  “Crime in the Streets” with John Cassavetes, Sal Mineo and Mark Rydell, “The Lineup” with Eli Wallach, which had a rare showing on TCM last year and “Private Hell 36” with Ida Lupino to name a few. 

 

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I saw “Baby Face Nelson” at the time of its original release. We (my father took me) saw it at the Loew’s Commodore on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  The Commodore in the 1960’s would gain legendary status when it became the Fillmore East  rock venue.  

   

Here is a list of the films mentioned in this post that are not available on home video.

 

Crime in the Streets

Riot in Cell Block 11

Private Hell 36

Mad Dog Coll

Al Capone (released on VHS OOP – No DVD release)

The Purple Gang

The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond  (released on VHS OOP – No DVD release)

The Lineup

Machine Gun Kelly (released on VHS OOP – No DVD release)

 

  

OOP VHS can still be found in some video stores and local libraries. Certainly worth checking out.