Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Saturday, July 9, 2016

HOT AND BOTHERED - The Films of 1932 Blogathon: The Beast of the City


Wowza! HOT AND BOTHERED - The Films of 1932 blogathon is here!  Aurora of Once Upon a Screen has today's contributions.  Tomorrow check out Theresa of CineMaven's Essays from the Couch for more steamy goodness.

I swear one of these days I am going to add up how many times I have seen George Chandler play a newspaper man.  George is once again a reporter in 1932s The Beast of the City from MGM.  The story is by W.R. Burnett (This Gun for Hire, The Asphalt Jungle) with dialogue by John Lee Mahin (Scarface, Down to the Sea in Ships).  The director is Charles Brabin who took MGM out of its comfort zone with The Mask of Fu Manchu.

WARNING:  SPOILERS AHEAD

Working the crime beat for the papers in this city keeps one busy indeed.  There's always something crooked and rotten going on as the town is the grip of crime boss Sam Belmonte (Jean Hersholt).  The night we enter the picture some guys known as the Dopey Brothers who were trying to muscle in on Belmonte are found dead.  Chief Detective Jim Fitzpatrick (Walter Huston) drags Belmonte to HQ, but his lawyer springs him  in no time.  Fitzpatrick is an embarrassment to the likes of the Captain of Police and the Mayor as he's an honest cop who wants to clean up the town while the politicians are busy lining their pockets.

Jim Fitzpatrick:  "I hate Belmonte and that crowd because they're behind everything in this town that's rotten.  I mean to wipe 'em out if it takes hot lead." 

A hard-nose on the job, Jim is a pussycat at home teasing his twin pre-teen daughters (Betty Mae and Beverly Crane), roughhousing with son Mickey (Mickey Rooney) and enjoying sweet, quiet moments with his wife Mary (Dorothy Peterson).



Jean Harlow, Wallace Ford

Jim's kid brother Ed (Wallace Ford) is on the Force, but he doesn't take it so seriously.  This job is just 9 to 5.  Jim, with all the fondness of a big brother, sees great things in the kid if he will just learn to focus.  Well, Ed has focus alright and he's focused on a the comely Daisy, a "stenographer" who travels in Belmonte circles.  Ed makes her acquaintance only half-heartedly telling himself he's scoping out information on Belmonte.  For her part, Daisy thinks it will be worth her while to have an "in" with the police.

Daisy:  "I never thought I'd have a yen for a copper.  Are you gonna try and reform me, huh?"
Ed:  "What for?"



Jean Hersholt, Wallace Ford, Jean Harlow, J. Carroll Naish

Demoted to a precinct in the 'burbs, Jim has a sudden rise to glory when he deals with a brazen bank robbery.  The papers and the reformers want a shake up at police headquarters.  The old captain is out and Jim is in.  Relying on old partners Tom (Warner Richmond) and Makowski (Sandy Roth), Jim hopes to weed out the bad apples while cracking down on crime.  Ed feels that with his big brother in charge, he is a cinch for a promotion, but Jim tells him to prove himself first.  This doesn't sit well with Ed who is living beyond his means to please Daisy.  He begins tipping off Belmonte for a price and when an assignment guarding a bank transfer comes his way Ed is too free with information to Daisy.  She sets a robbery up with Belmonte underling Cholo (J. Carroll Naish).  

The robbery goes horribly wrong resulting in the death of an innocent child bystander and Detective Makowski.  Fitzpatrick picks up the crooks and, through judicious interrogation, they are only too happy to spill.  Ed has to stand trial along with two of the gang.   Belmonte fixes things the proceedings with a crooked lawyer and intimidation tactics.  If you like courtroom fireworks, it is a glorious thing to watch Tully Marshall's impassioned plea to the jury.  The crooked lawyer acts as if he alone is responsible for the not guilty verdict, not the dirty doings of his gangland boss.



Walter Huston, Warner Richmond

Belmonte is riding high.  He has proven in a Court of Law once and for all who runs this town.  Jim Fitzpatrick is true to his word about using hot lead if it comes to it.  At the mob's post-trial celebration  a chastened Ed goads Belmonte into believing he is about to crack to the cops while Jim and a dozen personally selected men raid the nightclub.  Belmonte has a choice of coming along quietly, but every man there knows it is a suicide assignment.  The head-to-head shootout that follows is incredible.  The air is filled with gunsmoke and mobsters and coppers alike are cut down, including the wrong-place-at-wrong-time Daisy.  Wowza!

The story is told with a rat-a-tat, fast-paced rawness.  You can feel the heat in Daisy's small apartment, both from the overheated environs and the overheated blonde beauty and her infatuated copper.  You can smell the meal at the dinner table in the Fitzpatrick's homey abode.  You can sense the overwhelming anticipation and resignation in the final confrontation between the good and evil factions.  The Beast of the City has a ripped from the headlines feel accented with over-the-top emotions.



Walter Huston (1883-1950) born right here in Toronto was an extremely busy actor.  In Hollywood in 1932 alone, along with The Beast of the City, he appeared in Frank Capra's American Madness, recreated his stage role of Flint in Kongo (Broadway, 1926), played the uptight Rev. Davidson in Rain, and a famed gunfighter in the western classic Law and Order (son John worked on that screenplay from W.R. Burnett's novel).  In a couple of years he would head back to Broadway to star in Dodsworth opposite Fay Bainter.  He would receive the first of four Oscar nominations for playing that role in the 1936 film.



Jean Harlow (1911-1937) is justly famous for her stunning looks, but has stayed in fans hearts because of what we sense of her personality, a combination of vulnerability and gumption.  We have the opportunity to follow her career from bit parts to stardom and her development as an actress.  In 1931 there is her awkward performance in Public Enemy and her slightly more assured, though again miscast, turn in Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde.  Three Wise Girls gives us a hint of her genuine star quality and The Beast of the City shows us someone really getting into a role.  This same year she positively steals Red Dust amid the company of Clark Gable and Mary Astor, and takes on prisoners in Red-Headed Woman.  By the next year, she confidently spoofs her own life in Bombshell and outshine many of the stars of Dinner at Eight.  Jean Harlow was a wonder.

Wallace Ford (1898-1966), like Huston, was a stage veteran when he entered film in the 1930s playing important roles for MGM in Possessed, Freaks and Employees' Entrance.  Straddling the line between leading man and character star, Ford's career would take the turn to character roles in such films as The Lost Patrol and The Informer.  He would create the role of George in the 1937 Broadway production of Of Mice and Men, co-starring Broderick Crawfod as Lennie.  By the 1950s he was a welcome presence in support in westerns and comedies and his last film A Patch of Blue in 1965 was a fine showcase for a genuine talent.

Jean Hersholt, for whom the Academy's humanitarian award is named, is generally a screen presence associated with kind characters such as his Dr. Christian series, Skyscraper SoulsGrand Hotel, etc.  Here he gives us a powerful and rotten crime boss.  Tully Marshall's career includes silent film classics like Intolerance and The Trail of  '98 to film-noir This Gun for Hire and Moontide.  I particularly enjoy his creepy principal in the Hildegarde Withers flick, Murder on a Blackboard.   Dorothy Peterson was the movies go-to gal for the supportive and self-sacrificing wife/mother in such movies as  That Hagen Girl and the Five Little Peppers and Henry Aldrich for President.



George Chandler

Familiar faces popping up in The Beast of the City include Nat Pendleton, Murray Kinnell, J. Carroll Naish, Warner Richmond, Ed Brophy and, of course, George Chandler as a gentleman of the press.








31 comments:

  1. Wallace Ford with bombshell Jean Harlow? See, that ALREADY blows my cotton-pickin' pre~code mind. Whew! Thanks so much for this post for our blogathon. I don't know this film. Time to get to know it. Thanks again!

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    1. "The Beast of the City" comes at you like a one-two punch. It is, to quote my late father when he particularly enjoyed a film, "a dandy".

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  2. MAN, OH MAN! Yours is my first read for this and what an intro. I've never seen this movie and I'm hitting my head against the wall as soon as I finished this comment. Not only does this movie have all of the elements I love - newspapermen, crime, crookedness and rottenness, but I HAVE IT ON DVD!!

    Love this entry - it's a spirited as the year it represents. Enjoyable read, Paddy. THANKS for joining us!

    Aurora

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    1. You have it on DVD?! D'oh!

      It is right down your street and up your alley.

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Delete
    2. I Do! Not a great copy, but NO EXCUSE. It's in one of those inexpensive, million movie collections.

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    3. I Do! Not a great copy, but NO EXCUSE. It's in one of those inexpensive, million movie collections.

      Delete
  3. OH - must add that I'm more than a little afraid of Walter Huston in precodes. I don't care what role he plays.

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    1. I hear you. There's a simmering rage underneath the surface that makes you want to stay out of his way.

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  4. MAN, OH MAN! Yours is my first read for this and what an intro. I've never seen this movie and I'm hitting my head against the wall as soon as I finished this comment. Not only does this movie have all of the elements I love - newspapermen, crime, crookedness and rottenness, but I HAVE IT ON DVD!!

    Love this entry - it's a spirited as the year it represents. Enjoyable read, Paddy. THANKS for joining us!

    Aurora

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  5. Jean Hersholt as a baddie? What are the movies coming to!?

    On another note, I agree with what you say: Jean Harlow was definitely a "wonder," and few could match her mix of sex, sass, and self-deprecating humor. It's so fascinating to watch how, in her brief life span, she became such an assured performer. She was really something.

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    1. Hee-hee. And an excellent villain he was.

      We are privileged to watch Jean Harlow's transformation on screen. A unique talent.

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  6. Pretty good cast. Maybe I'll check this out one day. Didn't know Huston was a Torontonian. Torontite? Torontish?

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    1. Yeah, it's Torontonian. Breaking it down I'm an Etobicokian or Mimicoan. Heck, I've lived here most of my life and still get asked where I'm from even though I can't detect a trace of the Maritime accent.

      The movie is on TCM in August on Sunday the 7th as part of Jean Harlow day. I love Jean, but wish they had a Walter Huston day.

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  7. Wow--Huston certainly had an impressive year in 1932! Paddy, once again you have exposed me to another film I must see. I will be sure to tune into this one on TCM's Jean Harlow day. (Also interested in seeing a young Mickey Rooney prior to those Andy Hardy pics.)

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    1. A Walter Huston day need only focus on '32 if they wanted.

      Young Mickey Rooney astounds me. The kid always had "it", and in abundance.

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  8. It's high praise when a movie can make you "feel" its environment--both physical and emoitional. Love your description of the "heat in Daisy's small apartment, both from the overheated environs and the overheated blonde beauty and her infatuated copper."

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    1. Thanks.

      Put "The Beast of the City" next to "Kongo" and "Red Dust" and I imagine a lot of MGM workers needed air conditioning in 1932.

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  9. Excellent article Patricia. I've seen this film a few times, but I definitely need to rewatch it.

    I also invite you to check out my contribution to the blogathon

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/red-dust-1932/

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    1. Thank you, Crystal.

      I still have a few articles to catch up on. I must be saving the best for last.

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  10. The last Jean Harlow movie I've watched was Red-Headed Woman, also from 1932. I need to check Beast of the City, I once read it was a proto-noir!
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. Yes, you definitely could look upon the film as pro-noir. Thanks for reading. This has been a very interesting blogathon.

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  11. Wait a minute. John Huston was Canadian? How on earth did this escape my notice?

    And how did this film escape my notice? It sounds terrific, and I loved the way you described its ripped-from-the-headlines appeal.

    You know, I would also like to know how many times George Chandler has played a reporter.

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    1. I'm always happy to see George Chandler, but always little disappointed when he isn't a reporter. I'm never satisfied!

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  12. I'm not sure how I haven't seen this one yet. I *love* Wallace Ford, and of course Jean Harlow. This sounds like a good one all around!

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    1. This is one that sneaked up on me in recent years. It's a wonderful thing that we can still be surprised in our movie journey.

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  13. "You can feel...you can sense...you can smell..." I felt I was reading SMELL-0-VISION. L0L! You brought life to this film. Harlow, only 21-years old. Can you imagine. If Huston is going after you, you might as well give up. I enjoyed your review and look forward to checking it out during Harlow's SOTM on TCM. Walter Huston is one of the most natural sounding actors from the Golden Age.

    Hey, I may be in Toronto in September for a whirlwind trip. What's there to do up in Toronto? Thanks again for joining the blogathon.

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    1. I would love to see you while you're in town if time permits. "Whirlwind" sounds like a packed schedule.

      What's to do? Well, TIFF runs from September 8 - 18. My second kid sister is a regular attendee as well as a volunteer. I show up when something is classic or free, better when it is both.

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  14. This is swell: "The story is told with a rat-a-tat, fast-paced rawness. You can feel the heat in Daisy's small apartment, both from the overheated environs and the overheated blonde beauty and her infatuated copper. You can smell the meal at the dinner table in the Fitzpatrick's homey abode. You can sense the overwhelming anticipation and resignation in the final confrontation between the good and evil factions." You're an ace at the old Smith Corona typewriter keys, doll.

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    1. Thank you so much.

      They could hear me rattling on the keys up and down the street.

      Delete
  15. Hello There! I need to see this movie- I love anything on Harlow-she's adorable and made too few movies. I loved reading your section on her for this post. I didn't read too many of the spoilers- I wanna be surprised!

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    1. Avert your eyes from spoilers! I found it difficult to write about this movie without talking about the ending. I know you'll be impressed with Jean.

      Thanks for commenting.

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