From Universal and producer Carl Laemmle Jr. comes this excellent example showcasing the sins of the pre-code era clocking in at a swift 58 minutes. As an added bonus, Boris Karloff and George Raft turn up in featured roles.
Opening the film we are treated to some location footage of New York and the bright lights. In a montage sequence we get a look at booze, legs and lingerie, a street killing and what appears to be a man picking up a prostitute. Pretty seedy stuff for the big screen and not to be seen once the laws of 1934 were to be put in place.
The majority of this film directed by Hobart Henley takes place inside Happy’s Club. It’s a swank nightclub where liquor flows and scantily clad dancing girls move across the dance floor while talking of netting a well to do man. Boris Karloff is the owner and host who greets his high society clientele at the door and is quick to cover up for those who may have stepped out on a husband or wife the week before.
Mae Clarke is the star attraction at the club that includes top billed Lew Ayres as a young, drunken patron who a large part of the plot revolves around. Lew has been drowning his sorrows in booze thanks to his mother played by Hedda Hopper killing his father and getting away with it. Turns out she’s a cold fish and let’s him know it.
Gangland favorite George Raft appears in a lesser role as that of a gambler/gangster who tries to pick up Mae. She quickly comes to realize he believes her to be a prostitute and assumes it’s straight back to his apartment. Thankfully Ayres has sobered up a bit and becomes her knight in shining armor laying out our coin flipping tough guy. This takes care of the romantic angle moving forward.
Like many clubs and speakeasy’s of the prohibition era, Boris is going to be muscled a bit by local hoods who expect him to buy their wine and spirits. He’ll have none of it and this sets the tone for the finale set with gun play, double crosses and implied sex. There’s plenty of boldness shoehorned into the short running time of this film that credits Busby Berkeley with the dance sequences.
Sure this is no classic but it does offer a few interesting points to consider and scenes to smile at when we take a look back at what the studios were getting on to the local screens in the early thirties.
Karloff had of course just had his breakthrough role in Frankenstein. Here is rejoined by that film’s leading lady, Miss Clarke. Even the name Frankenstein is comically spoken in this script referencing the previous years hit and with Boris in the cast, you could call it an in joke. Producer Laemmle Jr. should be considered a saint among horror fans as it was this young 23 year old who spear headed the first wave of Universal monsters films that we have come to love and admire over the last 80 plus years.
Unlike her counterpart Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper would actually have a fairly long career in minor roles before moving on to become a gossip queen with a fair bit of clout around tinsel town.
Special mention should go here to Clarence Muse. I say this because his role might be the best of the film. As a black actor, that isn’t always the case in Hollywood productions of the era. He may be playing the doorman but his character is of a wise elder and in the end elicits the most sympathy in the production.
Hookers, a gay man, funky camera angles using bare women’s legs in the foreground and a patron who appears to be looking upwards from the ground level as the skirt wearing dancing girls pass by are just a few of the many clips and scenes that would soon be erased from the public viewing experience in just a couple more years after the release of this curio featuring Dear Boris in a non-horror role.
It’s a Universal Picture.
A good cast is worth repeating ……………………………