Debbie Vega of Moon in Gemini is our hostess for the It Takes a Thief blogathon running from November 17 - 19. "The caper, the heist, kidnappings, great escapes, con artists, high-class jewel thieves, art forgers, hungry peasants stealing bread, in any genre - all will be accepted!" Click HERE for the larcenous contributions.
The Morris Department Store is going to be knocked over. It's an inside job. Of sorts. The brains, if you can call him that, is Mickey Bain (Barton MacLane). Mickey's only qualification as a leader is that he can intimidate. To get the gang together he needs the real leader, Joe Dennis (George Raft). Joe leads by dint of his personality and loyalty. On a job a few years back Joe took the rap while Mickey high-tailed it to the hills. There is no love lost.
George Raft, Barton MacLane
Mickey: "They'd follow you over a cliff."
Joe: "I don't want to go over a cliff. That's what I've been tryin' to tell ya."
Harry Carey, Cecil Cunningham
Jerome Morris: "They're not set apart. They're not stared at like side show freaks just because they've made one or two mistakes that any of us might make."
Mary Morris: "Jerome, have you something in your past that you never told me?"
Joe received parole and found a job at the Morris Store. Jerome Morris (Harry Carey) believes in good works, and his good work is giving ex-cons a break. Most of the gang needed for the heist are already employed at the store. Morris has given them all a job and chance at a new life, despite the misgivings of his wife (Cecil Cunningham). Joe grabbed onto that chance with all he's worth. When his time on parole is up he plans to take Morris' recommendation and hop a California bound bus for a brand new life.
Vera Gordon, Egon Brecher, Sylvia Sidney, George Raft
Mrs. Levine (landlady): "It should be with luck. You are a fine boy, but you are getting the best little girl in the world."
On his last night in Chicago, Joe spends time with a sweet co-worker, Helen (Sylvia Sidney). Helen knows all about Joe's past, and she loves him. Joe is also falling for Helen, but he doesn't know about her past. Helen, like many of the employees at the store, has also done time. She, however, is still on parole which forbids things like love, or at least marriage. Impulsively, the pair do marry, and Helen starts lying to hide what she has done. If it weren't for the lies and guilt, life would be perfect.
Robert Cummings, George E. Stone, Jack Pennick
Harlan Briggs, Warren Hymer, Roscoe Karns
Helen's secrets cause doubt to enter Joe's heart. This leaves him open to the pressure to join in the plot against the Morris Department Store. Lang cast the crooks and ex-cons with the best of character actors. There's Warren Hymer, Roscoe Karns, George E. Stone, Jack Pennick, and almost looking every bit his 28 years, Robert Cummings. Tough guys and mugs, one and all.
Sylvia Sidney schools the crooks.
Helen: "The big shots aren't little crooks like you. They're politicians."
The caper becomes complicated when Mickey crosses an even bigger boss. Joe's slow thinking, but steadfast pal Gimpy (Warren Hymer) has misgivings, and his misgivings lead to Helen, and Helen confides in Mr. Morris. Joe considers this a major betrayal, perhaps even beyond her lie of omission about prison. The rest of the gang, however, is responsive to Helen's attempt to explain how crime really does not pay, in dollars and cents. Some lessons are more readily learned than others. What will it take for Joe and Helen to get back together?
Norman Krasna (Fury, The Devil and Miss Jones) wrote the story and Virginia Van Upp (Here Comes the Groom, St. Louis Blues) the screenplay for this crime/romance/musical hybrid. Cinematographer Charles Lang, an 18 time Oscar nominee, provided the shimmery hues and evocative shadows that gleam upon the screen and our imaginations.
Director Fritz Lang plays with the narrative of this tale with the use of songs by Kurt Weill and Sam Coslow. It is daring, theatrical and, for me, a very successful storytelling experiment.
Song of the Cash Register
The film opens with Song of the Cash Register. The sing-speak vocalist is a counterpoint to the visuals of all sorts of consumer goods, from necessities to luxury items.
We are then reminded that there is only one honest way to obtain these goods. Our culture, however it may laud the idea of "buy when you can" was already becoming one of "pay when you can". Generations of dissatisfied consumers became generations of debtors. Thievery by another name.
The Right Guy for Me
Newly minted as an ex-parolee, Joe Dennis takes Helen on a night of celebration prior to taking a California bound bus to give his new life a new location. In a nightclub, the couple is entertained by a forceful chanteuse (Carol Paige) who sings about The Right Guy for Me.
Helen's imagination swirls during the number with images of romance and loss as they come closer to the time for Joe's departure. Joe cannot even imagine that such love and devotion is real, or that it could ever be a part of his life.
The Knocking Song
Devised by Phil Boutelje, a military bandmaster and arranger for Paul Whiteman, The Knocking Song is the final musical piece and is placed at a point in the film where the burglary is shifting into high gear. The gang waits for Joe and, being as it is Christmas and the season puts folks in a sentimental frame of mind, they start reminiscing about their time in stir.
The memories are recounted in a rhythmic manner with the different voices joining in as the urgency of the story is heightened. Joe's eventual arrival brings him directly into the song. I find this number fascinating, and a highlight of the movie.
You and Me shift tones suddenly and often, from romance to melodrama, crime to musical, morality tale to Runyonesque comedy. The core of the film is what holds it together and make it work, and that core is the honesty in the performances of Sylvia Sidney and George Raft.
Movie trivia: The Boston Society of Film Critics awarded You and Me a special award called Best Rediscovery in 2014 by which it was included in the Harvard Film Archives.