Tuesday, June 04, 2002


I caught this far-fetched but enjoyable little comedy during TCM's salute to Edward G.Robinson. This was apparently Robinson's first comedic role after playing a lot of tough guys, mostly gangsters. In this, he still plays a tough guy, but he gets to make fun of his gangster image. He's a bootlegging "beer baron" from Chicago who gets out of the business as Prohibition comes to an end and heads out to California to live the high life. Most of the comedy comes from his attempts to blend in with the snooty L.A. types that he wants to run with. He falls for heiress Helen Vinson and she schemes to use him to get her family out of potential financial ruin. Along the way, Mary Astor, a woman who family was ruined by Vinson's family's doings, becomes his "buddy," and she eventually falls for Robinson. It's very light in tone and fast-paced, not quite a screwball, although there is a bumpy romance and lots of deception engaged in by everyone concerned (Astor and Robinson both hide their backgrounds and Vinson only pretends to be romantically interested in Robinson).

There are a couple of amusing pre-Code lines: an associate of Robinson, appraising a work of abstract art, says he hasn't seen anything like that since he quit cocaine. Later, Robinson refers to the California partiers as "a bunch of fags with handkerchiefs up their sleeves." Astor and Robinson don't really have much chemistry; she always seems more like a friend than a potential lover. An actor named Russell Hopton, who I had never heard of before, does a nice supporting turn as Robinson's "companion" from back East, a part that normally would be filled by someone like Allen Jenkins.

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