Sunday 16 December 2007

Love is a Racket (1932) William A Wellman

Jimmy Russell writes a gossip column called Up and Down Broadway for the New York Globe, and he's played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Lee Tracy is in the picture too, but amazingly the best screen reporter of all time doesn't do a lot of reporting. Mostly he's just Stanley Fiske who hangs out with Jimmy Russell. The other key name here is Frances Dee, who plays a young Broadway actress wannabe called Mary Wodehouse. Jimmy Russell has the hots for her but so does local crime boss Eddie Shaw, played with relish by Lyle Talbot.

The problem is that Mary has run up a sizeable debt writing bogus cheques and Eddie seizes the opportunity to take on the debt so as to have something over her. Jimmy has already proved that he'll play the game and not rock the boat because he helps squelch a milk racket story that would put Shaw into a scandal, but he'll go the extra mile when Mary is in trouble and there's some admirable attention to detail (though deliberately not quite enough) in that extra mile.

Fairbanks is good here, though he sleepwalks through some of the film and looks notably static next to Lee Tracy who doesn't have a huge part but gets plenty of opportunity to shine. He gets two very different facets to his role and runs through no end of facial expressions. He's always a joy to watch, even when his mouth isn't running nineteen to the dozen. Beyond Frances Dee and Lyle Talbot, there's plenty of other able support in Ann Dvorak as a lady waiting patiently for Russell, Warren Hymer as a henchman and Cecil Cunningham as Mary's protective Aunt Hattie.

The biggest star of all though, or at least the one to whom most time and attention was devoted, seems to be the rain. It would be an understatement to point out that there's a lot of rain in his film, so much that I now doubt whether there was a scene without any. Maybe this is an early influence on Se7en which also used rain as a character device. It's also very much a precode, in that there's a murder but not only the killer gets away with it but the character who covers up for the killer gets away with it and the character who covers up for the character who covers up for the killer gets away with it too. Under the code that half of the film would have been gone for a start.

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