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Thieves Fall Out (1941)

In my desire to see more films from the earlier part of Eddie Albert’s career I settled on giving this one a look after checking the cast list and noticing it also starred Alan Hale and a pre-Oscar winning Anthony Quinn. Eddie for me is generally associated with either Green Acres or his not so agreeable roles in seventies fare like The Longest Yard. So for the next 72 minutes I found myself entertained by this “B” flick that borders on the mad cap screwball genre minus the touch of Lubitsch or the rapid fire delivery of Hawks.

Eddie is quick to confront his boss Alan Hale for a raise as the film opens up. Hale is a hard nosed, big mouthed businessman overseeing his owned and operated mattress factory. Turns out Eddie is actually Hale’s son and wants a raise in order to marry his sweetheart Joan Leslie. Cute Miss Leslie is actually the daughter of Hale’s chief adversary in the business. Shades of Romeo and Juliet? Hale will have none of it prompting Eddie’s grandmother and Hale’s mother-in-law Jane Darwell to set about playing cupid.

Seeing Hale verbally spar with Darwell a number of times over the course of the film offers quite a few laughs and their scenes together probably stand as the highlights of the film as they go toe to toe.

With a push from Darwell to chase his dreams, Eddie hits upon a crazy idea. He’s due to inherit $100,000 upon the death of his own Mother, Minna Gombell, who at this time in the film is only 48. He sells the legacy he’s due for a third to investor Hobart Cavanagh. In order to finalize the deal, Eddie agrees to be married and expecting a child within the next sixty days to collect the money and finalize a business deal that will put him in the mattress business on his own.

A quick elopement follows and then something you have to assume “the code” let slip by. By all appearances, Eddie and Joan must be having sex on a nightly basis based on Eddie marking an X on his pocket calendar for every day his bride doesn’t confess that she’s pregnant. An X for every day is a lot of sex if I’m reading the joke correctly. One assumption leads to another and Eddie does indeed finalize his deal. This of course means that his Mother is worth 67K dead. While Cavanagh is an honest businessman, his new partner isn’t. Gangster about town Anthony Quinn buys the note from the meek Cavanagh and has no intention of waiting years to collect the 100K that Eddie has signed over.

And so begins the madcap plot from the half way point forward that sees Eddie, Joan and Miss Darwell take on all comers down the stretch including Quinn and a befuddled police officer played by Edward Brophy under Warner Brothers house director Ray Enright’s direction.

Tuning into this title on TCM reminded me of just how much I enjoy Alan Hale on screen. During my initial years of discovering character actors Hale was one I loved to catch supporting the likes of Errol Flynn and James Cagney in countless on screen adventures. He made most any film he appeared in that much better and was surely one of Warner Brothers great assets during the late 30’s and 40’s when name actors were usually signed to a home studio on the basis of the seven year contract.

Eddie Albert has an ease on camera in these early roles that proved him a likable actor in a Robert Cummings or Red Skelton kind of way minus Red’s pratfalls. It should come as no surprise that Eddie went on to a long career and one that encompassed a number of genres that showed his versatility. Miss Leslie and Eddie appeared in three consecutive films at the Warner Factory in 1941. Thieves, The Wagons Roll at Night and The Great Mr. Nobody. Leslie also appeared opposite Bogie as Velma in High Sierra during the same year and with Coop in Sergeant York. Heck of a year!

Oscar winner for The Grapes of Wrath, Jane Darwell scores an energetic role this time out as opposed to the tired look I’ll forever identify her with as Ma Joad. It’a role that could easily have been switched to Eddie’s Grandfather and enacted by Charles Coburn who excelled at these types during his heyday. Just as well he didn’t though as Jane versus Alan would be sorely missed upon reflection. By 1941, screen legend Anthony Quinn had appeared in almost thirty films and wouldn’t get a leading role until 1947’s Black Gold opposite his wife Katherine DeMille. At this point he was still apprenticing at Warner’s in films like this, City For Conquest and They Died With Their Boots On. A couple of Oscars in the 1950’s would forever change his status about tinsel town.

Diverting and worth a look so keep your eyes on the listings over at TCM.

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