Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Frank Rocci (Paul Kelly) runs a protection racket in New York City and has become a wealthy and powerful man. Crowley, a disgruntled underling, leaves his employ because of the small cut he's getting. Frank's buddies warn him to keep an eye out for Crowley, but Frank seems unconcerned. In fact, his biggest concern is the career of young singer Joan Whelan (Constance Cummings), an old family friend. Without telling Joan, Frank gets her a job at a nightclub run by ostentatious hostess Tex Kaley. Max, the musical director, is not happy with this development, but knows it's best for his health to go along with Frank's wishes—especially when Frank becomes owner of the club. Worldly Frank and innocent Joan start dating and, surprisingly, it seems to work—her influence softens Frank a bit. But when Crowley starts threatening Frank, he sends Joan to Florida for her safety where she falls in love with handsome crooner Clark Brian (Russ Columbo), whose only fault seems to be that he has a delicate constitution when it comes to blood and violence. Clark breaks his contract in Florida and goes back to New York with Joan. How will Frank react? And what happens when Crowley gets the bright idea to kidnap Joan?

This story, credited to Manhattan columnist Walter Winchell who narrates it, is based (apparently quite closely) on the lives of Ruby Keeler and Al Jolson, with Joan based on Ruby, Clark based on Al, and Frank based on gangster Larry Fay. But even if that knowledge means nothing to you, this is still a fun, energetic pre-Code romantic melodrama which sometimes goes off in unpredictable directions, particularly in the last fifteen minutes. Kelly is tough and charismatic, making a surprisingly likeable gangster. Cummings has never been particularly memorable to me but she's fine here, especially if you picture her as Ruby Keeler. Russ Columbo (pictured) was a popular singer who died in a shooting accident at the age of 26 the year after this film was released. As an actor, he makes a good looking singer, but he does, like Kelly, have charisma. Real-life nightclub owner Texas Guinan plays a version of herself as Tex Kaley, and singer Blossom Seeley is fun as Joan's companion. Reliable bad guy C. Henry Gordon plays Crowley. Some pre-Code touches: a gay interior designer who lispingly calls a room "simply stunning"; a reference to "Peter Pansy" male dancers in the dance line; an amusing opening sequence with Times Square signs (like "Most Beautiful Girls in the World Here") alternating with a neon "NUTS”"sign from a peanut shop. An interesting and somewhat overlooked pre-Code film. [TCM]

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