Classic Movies

Movies and stuff I’ve stared at recently during my convalescence #5


The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) – Psychiatrist T.S. Clitterhouse (Edward G. Robinson) is conducting research into the criminal mind by hooking up with a gang of thieves headed up by “Rocks” Valentine (Humphrey Bogart) and “fence” Jo Keller (Claire Trevor). As part of the “gang,” the good medico participates in jewel and fur robberies—but finds it’s not so easy to get rid of his new pals; he may want to retire but Valentine has other ideas. So Doc Clitterhouse slips “Rocks” a mickey…and then must stand trial for the hoodlum’s murder, with his attorney (Thurston Hall) advising him to plead insanity.

Mom and I were stymied by the fact that there wasn’t a damn thing worth watching on TV last night, and so I slipped this DVD into the player…much to her delight; she really enjoyed this one. It’s one of my favorites, too; co-written by John Huston in his screenwriting days, Clitterhouse has an unusual plot that allows it to rise above the usual Warner Bros. crime melodrama (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing). (I also think it’s interesting to see Eddie G., Bogie and Claire interact long before Huston cast them in Key Largo [1948].) You’ll see the usual Warner faces in this one: Allen Jenkins, Donald Crisp, Gale Page, Henry O’Neill and John Litel (get this—he plays a lawyer!); “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom, Vladimir Sokoloff and Ward Bond (Mom: “Is that Ward Bond?”) can be glimpsed among the members of Bogie’s gang.


Smart Money (1931) – Bogie and Eddie G. appeared in five films together during their stay at Warner Brothers—and Bogie made three flicks with Jimmy Cagney—but this is the only movie that co-starred Cagney and Robinson. Eddie is Nick “The Barber” Venizelos, a practioner of the tonsorial arts who also has a jones for gambling—and who’s staked by his friends (including Jimmy, who plays his sidekick) to venture into “The City” (honest to my grandma, that’s what the title card says…another card appearing later reads “Another City”) to try his luck in a high-stakes poker game. Nick is taken for a ride by hotshot gambler Sleepy Sam (Ralf Harolde) and his friends, but he gets his revenge and later becomes the big man around town, targeted by local law enforcement who send a beautiful blonde (Evalyn Knapp) to distract him from their plans.

Money is an odd little movie in several respects: Cagney is head-scratchingly subdued here (only coming to the fray when his character tries to warn Robinson’s that Knapp is no damn good) and even when Eddie G.’s character is headed for The Big House he’s all laughter and smiles…to the point of posing for pictures for the press. Money features a brief bit by Boris Karloff in the first reel as a dope pusher…and it’s also the earliest film in which I’ve glimpsed character great Charles Lane (he plays a hotel clerk).


The Mayor of Hell (1933) – Another Warner Brothers oddity: it’s your typical juvenile delinquent melodrama, but with the added attraction of Cagney as a ward heeler who takes an interest in a reform school. Jimmy is Richard “Patsy” Gargan, a fixer whose political connections land him a job as “Deputy Commissioner” at the state reformatory. Dedicated nurse Dorothy Griffith (Madge Evans) talks Patsy into making much-needed changes to the school, which is run by the autocratic and just-plain-nasty Warden Thompson (Dudley Digges). With Dottie’s advice, Patsy allows the kid population to police themselves—a brat (Frankie Darro) named Jimmy Smith is the “mayor,” with another bruiser (Mickey Bennett) the “Chief of Police”—but when Gargan has to lie low after shooting a rival hustler (Harold Huber), the school reverts back to form…and a young kid (Raymond Borzage) ends up dying due to Thompson’s negligence. In Hell’s rousing conclusion, Patsy returns to the school in the nick of time to keep the little hoodlums from burning the jernt down.

Hell is a pretty sappy little vehicle (though not nearly as bad as its remakes, Crime School [1938] and Hell’s Kitchen [1939]) that nevertheless manages to entertain the most jaded viewer…which would be me and my mother, in this particular case. (Though I should point out that at the point the kids are surrounding the reformatory with torches my Mom cracked: “They need you over on the Frankenstein set at Universal!”) I found Cagney’s character—a guy who’s benefiting from the political patronage system—peculiar but endearing; I just wish his sidekick, “Uncle” Mike (Allen Jenkins) had received a bit more screen time. Our Gang member Allen “Farina” Hoskins plays one of the inmates; others in the cast include Arthur Byron, Sheila Terry, G. Pat Collins, Edwin Maxwell, Dorothy Peterson and Hobart Cavanaugh.

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