Friday, August 09, 2002

Two with Edward G. Robinson:

THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE (1938)--A very unusual plot and tone make this one worth watching. Edward G. Robinson plays a psychiatrist who makes a hobby of jewel thieving in order to carry out experiments concerning how people react physically and mentally when they engage in criminal activities. He winds up joining a gang (w/ Allen Jenkins, Ward Bond, Maxie Rosenblum, and Humphrey Bogart) and getting friendly with their fence (Claire Trevor). Things are fairly light for the first half, but complications soon pile up. First, Bogart gets defensive about Robinson slowly taking his role as gang leader. Then, when Clitterhouse fears he could be getting addicted to the rush of crime, he tries to get out, with unpleasant results. Even though events lead to a cold-blooded murder and a sensationalistic courtroom trial, the tone remains light, more like a 60's dark comedy than a 30's gangster film. The fairly satisfying ending is one of the oddest of the Code era, showing that punishment in the eye of the beholder. The whole cast is very good.

THE WIDOW FROM CHICAGO (1930) is an early Robinson gangster film without much charm or excitement until the last 10 minutes. Alice White plays the sister of a cop who was murdered by Robinson. She poses as the widow of an out-of-town enforcer who was supposedly killed on the way to do a job for Robinson. Working undercover for the police, she infiltrates the gang successfully until the enforcer (Neil Hamilton, Commissioner Gordon on TV's BATMAN) shows up alive. It is a clever plot, but the actors can't do much with it until the chase finale. Part of the problem is that it's a fairly early sound film and the direction feels slow and awkward. Robinson uses his most stereotyped gangster mannerisms, although to be fair, they may not have been stereotypes at the time. Frank McHugh has a small supporting role.

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