On New Year’s Eve in the Big Apple, down-and-out chorus girl Jennie Carr (Anna Lee) depends on the kindness of a stranger: mob lawyer Billy Cooper (James Pirrie), who takes the hungry woman in for some sustenance on the eve of his departure for England. In Cooper’s apartment, Jennie stumbles across a transient named Henry Abel (Arthur Goullet), who broke into Cooper’s crib for the same reason: he’s famished, and just wanted a meal.
While Jennie and Henry are getting acquainted, Cooper gets a visit from mobster Hugo Brant (Francis L. Sullivan), his former employer. Billy has decided to severe professional ties with Brant, which does not make Hugo happy. He does wait until his goons have ushered Jennie out of the apartment before expressing his dissatisfaction with Cooper’s neglecting to give two weeks’ notice by gunning Billy down. Believing that Jennie may be the only witness who can place him at the scene, Brant has a confederate frame the woman for a theft onboard a ship taking her back to Ol’ Blighty (Cooper invited her to share his cabin), and Jennie soon finds herself doing what our British cousins call “porridge.”
The situation gets dire, however, when Abel is picked up by the cops and charged with Cooper’s murder; the hobo is convicted and sentenced to a date with Ol’ Sparky. Abel’s lawyer puts out a call for “the missing girl” to come forward and clear his client…and when news of this finally reaches Jennie (once she’s out of the jug), she utilizes any means necessary to return to New York and establish the prisoner’s innocence.
A fast-paced comic thriller very much in a Hitchcockian vein, Non-Stop New York (1937) is a delightfully entertaining caper adapted from Ken Atiwill’s novel Sky Steward. Three scribes are credited with this one—Roland Pertwee, J.O.C. Orton, and E.V.H. Emmett (some sources say Curt Siodmak also worked on the script, as well as Derek Twist)—but the old maxim of “too many cooks spoil the broth” simply isn’t in play here, because the finished product is a deft blend of comedy and suspense. As with many Hitchcock films, a tremendous amount of disbelief must be suspended for New York to work; fortunately, the direction is in the hands of future Disney veteran Robert Stevenson (Darby O’Gill and the Little People, Mary Poppins)…who keeps the movie moving so quickly you’ll generously overlook its logical weaknesses.
Anna Lee, Mrs. Robert Stevenson at the time, makes for a most engaging heroine. She’s endearingly earnest in her determination to prove Abel’s innocence that she stows away on a flying luxury liner (half-plane, half-steamship) when her pleas to Scotland Yard inspector Jim Grant (John Loder) fall on deaf ears (it doesn’t help matters that one of Brant’s henchmen, a weasel named Mortimer [William Dewhurst], has discredited her story to a skeptical Grant). Loder wasn’t the most charismatic of leading men, but he lends Non-Stop New York an air of Hitchcockian authenticity since he was the star of the Master of Suspense’s earlier Sabotage (1936). Desmond Tester, the awkward young kid in that movie (Hitch later remarked that croaking him in Sabotage was one of the biggest cinematic mistakes of his career), is also on hand in New York as a violin prodigy (who’d really like to play the sax) being accompanied on the plane by his disapproving aunt (Athene Seyler).
Technically, I shouldn’t have labeled this review part of the blog’s “Grey Market Cinema” series. Non-Stop New York has been released on a variety of DVD labels (you can even find the movie here on YouTube) though I don’t know if it’s officially public domain or not. The copy I purchased (during a sale at ShopTCM) was one released by the now defunct Nostalgia Family Video and knowing their “grey market” history I just went ahead and tagged it as such. The print is certainly not pristine (with these “orphaned” films it’s hard to find one that is) but watchable; the only real blemish is an audio beep/tone that keeps cropping up every five minutes in the NFV copy. Though the visual presentation leaves a lot to be desired, the content of New York is solid: it’s a terrific flight-of-fancy (pun intended), and definitely worth the time investment.