Monday 30 July 2007

Washington Merry-Go-Round (1932) James Cruze

Before he went to Mexico and pissed on a passing military parade from a balcony, thus ending his career for MGM, Lee Tracy was one of the most promising actors to be found anywhere in the precodes. He was the epitome of the fast talking journalist, con man or both. By the time you realise what he'd actually said he'd said something else and you have to scramble to keep up. This one's a political film, as you'd expect from the title, and Tracy plays a new congressman, Button Gwinett Brown, in what could easily be called Mr Brown Goes to Washington.

He's nobody really, but he's descended from Button Gwinett, who six generations earlier signed the Declaration of Independence. Now he's been elected to Congress by the crooks who run much of the show and who expect him to do a lot of towing the line, but he has other ideas. Just after he gets to Washington he makes it very clear to everyone he talks to that he was elected by a crooked machine, but now he's in he's planning to double cross the crooks. In fact he doesn't just tell the man who got him into office, Honest John Kelleher, who is naturally about as honest as you'd expect, he tells half the Bonus Army. After five minutes of spouting complete honesty, it's amazing he doesn't get lynched.

There's a lot of upside here. Lee Tracy was always amazing to watch and here he gets a crusade to run. The man he is due to meet first in Washington commits suicide before he even gets there, but mails his suicide note to the new Congressman exposing the men behind the scams, starting with the powerful Senator Norton, whose gun he borrowed to end his life. Tracy is as magnetic as always and that's pretty damn magnetic. Watching him tread on all the dangerous toes in the nation's capital is dynamic stuff, because he's an absolute train wreck in motion and he's as wild as they come. Tracy never could shut up and thank goodness for that.

He's ably assisted by some superb supporting actors, especially the Wylies, both the elderly Senator, played by Walter Connolly, and his beautiful granddaughter Alice, played by Constance Cummings. Both are completely apart from the standard and they're both pleasures to watch. The Senator is slow but sharp, and he knows exactly how everything works. His granddaughter is far from just a love interest, she's bright and intelligent, knows exactly how everything works too, and promptly makes herself his secretary. She has as much to say to him as he has to say to Congress.

The only downside here has to be the horrendous rear projection. We get to see about every famous sight in Washington with Brown and his fellow characters in the foreground but it's amazingly obvious that none of them are really there. It's a real shame because it does spoil, just a little, a very powerful film indeed. In many ways Mr Brown Goes to Washington is harder hitting and more relevant to today than Mr Smith Goes to Washington. Whoever is responsible for the rear projection should have been sacked with extreme prejudice.


Merrill said...

Where can I get a copy of this film?

Merrill said...

How can I get a copy of this film?

Hal C. F. Astell said...

Hi Merrill,

I don't believe this film is available on DVD, more's the pity.

I saw it on Turner Classic Movies, the best place to find precodes generally. I'm sure they'll replay it again though it's not in their schedule right now. I hope they do because there's so much more I should have said about it and I really should re-review.