Wednesday, December 11, 2002


The plotline of this film feels a bit tired and cliche now, but may well have been original back in '34. Nevertheless, the movie still works quite well, mainly due to the superb acting. I can't quite put my finger on why, but the acting feels very modern for its time, like it has more common with films of the 40's rather than the tail-end of the pre-Code era. The plot concerns two guys who have been friends since childhood, Blackie (Clark Gable) and Jim (William Powell), and the different paths their lives take. We first see them as kids, involved in a terrible boat fire which kills their parents. They are taken in first by a Jewish man who lost his own son in the fire and later by a Catholic priest (Leo Carillo). Jim becomes a lawyer and eventually district attorney; Blackie becomes a shady but shrewd quasi-underworld figure, making money through gambling. Eleanor (Myrna Loy) is Blackie's girl, but even though they live high off the hog, she tires of the gangster life and leaves Blackie for Jim; the scene where she is stood up by Blackie and winds up spending the night (so to speak) with Jim is a high point.

The two men have remained friends, with great respect for each other, and even the romantic entanglement doesn't break them apart. What does threaten to is when Blackie kills an informer with political connections who is trying to mess up Jim's run for governor. Jim has to try Blackie for murder, not knowing that Blackie actually comitted the murder with Jim's best interests in mind. In the last third, the movie's themes of love, ethics, and loyalty are brought to the front and provide a strong finish. All three leads are very good; in fact, aside from GONE WITH THE WIND, this might be Gable's best role ever. Both Powell and Gable were nominated for Oscars in '34, but not for this movie. Gable won for IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, and Powell was up for THE THIN MAN; both are good performances, but these overlooked ones are at least as good. Mickey Rooney has a small part in the beginning playing Blackie as a kid. Definitely one to catch, especially if you're a fan of any of the lead trio.

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