Wednesday 18 April 2007

Penthouse (1933) W S Van Dyke

No, the magazine behind the title credits isn't Penthouse, as much as this is 1933 and thus at the heart of the precode era. It's Cosmopolitan but the article is called Penthouse. There are more serious publications in play here too though, the press, who are about to point out that mobster Tony Gazotti has been sentenced to the chair when they discover that lawyer Jack Durant has got him off. The bizarre thing is that we quickly discover that Durant, played by the Crime Doctor himself, Warner Baxter, is an idealist with a terrible moustache. He got Gazotti off because he was innocent of the particular charge that was brought against him, but would happily send him to the chair if other charges were to be brought for which he was guilty.

Of course the people he works for and associates with socially are hardly happy about the people he's been defending, so his firm lets him go and his fiancee Sue does the same. This isn't a good thing because he's bad enough trying to look like Clark Gable without showing us that he's a worse drunk. Luckily Sue's new fiancee gets framed for murder and she comes running straight back to Jack Durant to defend him. That sparks him right up and he uses Gazotti's underworld connections to investigate. Given that Gazotti is played by Nat Pendleton and his underworld connection number one is Myrna Loy, we're in for a treat.

Pendleton could and probably did play parts like this in his sleep, and I'm sure I've seen later versions of the same act: the gangster who isn't afraid to do anything underhand but who holds a solid respect for the good guy lawyer who got him off. Loy is excellent, as she always was, and in fact she even gets to use her arms here which is one of my pet peeves about her acting. Charles Butterworth is a decent butler even though he's obviously been watching too many Stan Laurel shorts. There's even George E Stone, in his brief moustache period, but he doesn't get a lot of screen time.

As for the film itself, beyond the acting being done, the story is decent without being great but the scripting of character motivations is pretty bad. People fall in love, out of love, in love again at the drop of a hat. Durant, who has an astute sense of who is guilty or innocent jumps to every conclusion in the book when it comes to those closest to him and as I mentioned, Gazotti is a Nat Pendleton cliche. All good fun but not particularly great.

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