Thursday, June 23, 2016


John Gilbert and Robert Armstrong (pictured at left) are skyscraper construction workers, roommates and buddies who prank each other over women but also look out for each other. One night, Gilbert is arrested in a barroom brawl and Armstrong goes home with Mae Clarke, a shady lady who, unknown to Armstrong, has slept with Gilbert. Armstrong gets serious about Clarke and proposes marriage. When Gilbert gets wind of this, he's sure that Clarke, whom he thinks of as not much more than a whore, is out to fleece his buddy so he has a plan: he gets Clarke to take a weekend trip with him to Atlantic City and takes pictures of them being flirty, then arranges for Armstrong to find them, hoping to discourage his friend's wedding plans. But Gilbert doesn't know that Armstrong has already secretly married Clarke. When Armstrong discovers what's going on, he sets up a trap at the high-rise construction site to have Gilbert lose his footing and fall to his death. Will the plan work? And is Clarke really the gold-digger that Gilbert thinks she is?

This pre-code melodrama was, I believe, the last movie Gilbert made under contract to MGM, though Garbo insisted on having his co-star in QUEEN CHRISTINA later that year. Even at his weakest, Gilbert was worth watching, and he's actually in fairly good shape here as a cocky playboy, and Armstrong makes a good foil as his salt-of-the-earth friend. As others have noted, this isn't really a romance as much as a tale of male bonding, or bromance (which the ending makes quite clear), and though Clarke is good, she's almost wiped off the screen not only by the chemistry between the buddies but also because the best scenes in the movie are the ones with the construction workers hanging out together at dangerous heights. The shift in tones is interesting—from buddy comedy to romance to near-tragedy. Sterling Holloway and Vince Barnett are in the supporting cast, and there's a clip of Joan Crawford in LAUGHING SINNERS which we see when Armstrong and Clarke go to the movies. Directed by—though not credited to—Tod Browning, his first movie after the scandal of FREAKS. [TCM]

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