Thursday, April 24, 2014


Gary Cooper is a lanky, good-looking guy with not a lot on the ball, working as a carnie. Sylvia Sidney, his girlfriend, pushes him to make something of himself. Her father (Guy Kibbee) is a small-time hood working under the Big Fella (Paul Lukas), but when Kibbee kills off a rival for Lukas, he lets his daughter take the fall and go to prison. While she's in stir, Cooper starts to work for Lukas in his bootlegging operations and begins to make a name for himself. Once Sidney's out, a tangle of jealousies takes its toll: Lukas wants Sidney, as does Cooper, and Kibbee's former moll (Wynne Gibson), who has become Lukas's moll, feels slighted, setting in motion a climactic series of events leading to a murder and a wild and wooly car chase. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian and shot by Lee Garmes, this is chiefly notable for its visual style, making it a forerunner of what would be the noir look of the 40s. It's a relatively early sound film but it's not hamstrung by an immobile camera or wooden actors standing front and center; it's in motion, or feels like it, most of the time. Cooper, just 30 and handsome as all get-out, is fine, but Sidney (pictured at left) is even better. Lukas makes a good villain among villains, and it's very strange to see Guy Kibbee as a tough-skinned bad guy when I usually associate him with an absent-minded, good-hearted uncle (or would-be philandering husband). Dashiell Hammett wrote the screen story which, as a pre-Code film, lets some folks off without punishment. [TCM]

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