The Watch List For 1/24/13
ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938) --- Simply the summit of gangster melodramas at WB. This was what Cagney got as gift for returning there after his Grand National misadventure. Angels would be remembered as well, or better, than Public Enemy, Rocky's walk to the chair a masterstroke of did he or didn't he (turn yellow). Jim and Pat O' Brien had worked together before, never so effectively as here. JC got one look at how Warners dressed their backlot tenement and had to admit there was no place like (his studio) home. I've read how Dead End Kids teased/picked on Humphrey Bogart, but that Cagney jerked knots in them, which may prove that Jim was the tougher Warner guy. Considering their respective upbrings, there's little doubt of JC being more streetwise, and it's known he didn't take Bogie's bad-act too seriously.
I love Angels' street scene: it's slummy, but somehow you're home there. Did girls lovely and benign as Ann Sheridan live in such places? I could do with six or a dozen suits like ones Jim wears here. Background music at the
Directing Mike Curtiz gets full value from Angel set-ups, each abetted by quick-time edits that move 97 minutes like half that. This may-be my favorite 30's movie that isn't comic or horrific. The Dead End Kids are in check and register as distinct personalities. I'd guess this was where moulds were firmed for decades-ahead work on East Sides, Boweries: sites and labels to come. Humbled star George Bancroft and up-and-coming Bogart supply sinister backdrop. Would Father Jerry have gone as hard on Rocky had he realized the latter twice saved his life? That first occasion on railroad tracks would have clinched a lifetime pass from me: I'd not clamp down on Rocky from that point no matter what he did. Frankie Burke playing Sullivan-as-kid has uncanny resemblance to Cagney. Was he coached by his model? JC's powerful last scene is solely done with voice, plus hands clutching at a radiator. For impact that has, you'd imagine in hindsight seeing Cagney writhe head-to-feet, and there's the measure of his great performance.
CHINA GIRL (1942) --- Originally tabbed as a bigger picture to star Tyrone Power, China Girl came off Fox assembly a less stable "A," but well-written (Ben Hecht) and visually a beaut (that emphasized by 20th's On-Demand DVD). China Girl is romantic fantasy of pre-war, soldier-of-fortune George Montgomery unwilling to commit until met by half-caste Gene Tierney (the story was Darryl Zanuck's, scripting by Hecht).
THE GIGOLO RACKET (1931) --- Helen Morgan put been-there feel into torch singing that made up for lack of voice range, so startling is comparison with Gogi Grant, who'd put over with dynamic force the HM catalogue as vocal stand-in for Ann Blyth in 1957's bio-pic, The Helen Morgan Story. The Gigolo Racket was a Vitaphone two-reeler said to be Morgan's only appearance at less than feature-length. She's matronly at age thirty --- what a hard road this woman traveled. You could wish for twenty minutes of concertizing rather than two songs and the rest contrivance of star Helen going along with manager John Hamilton's scheme to pair her with a gigolo for publicity purposes. Morgan was deep in the sauce by 30's juncture, but had presence and tragic grandeur lent by years at speakeasy perf'ing and selling out Broadway in a legendary Showboat turn as Julie LaVerne. Helen might have been a great character actress in films given better circumstance, this based on wow work in Applause and the 1936 Showboat. She and stage colleague Jeanne Eagels were somewhat alike for dynamic, though limited, screen appearing, then premature lights out. The Gigolo Racket is another gem off Warner Archives' newest Vitaphone shorts DVD set.