Friday, April 24, 2015

Manhattan Melodrama

Manhattan Melodrama; crime drama, USA, 1934; D: W. S. Van Dyke, S: Clark Gable, William Powell, Myrna Loy

Childhood friends and orphans, two men grow up on the opposite spectrum of the law: "Blackie" Gallagher becomes an owner of an illegal casino whereas Jim Warne becomes the new district attorney. Since Blackie does not want to get out of his shady underground business, his girlfriend Eleanor leaves him and falls in love with Jim. When Blackie kills Mr. Snow, who wanted to blackmail Jim due to his Governor candidacy, the police arrests him. A man of integrity, Jim sends Blackie to a death penalty on trial. In the last minute, when he finds out his motive, Jim wants to change the penalty into a life in prison, but Blackie declines, since he does not want to spend his entire life in jail. After the execution, Jim quits his position.

This good crime drama gathered acclaim for very good performances and a competent direction, yet one is left with a semi-satisfied feeling since the story could have been far more intense, intriguing and inventive had it been developed better. As such, it is a fine example of that 'good-old-school' filmaking from the golden age of Hollywood, yet it is too simplistic and flat to truly encompass a greater quality. For one, it lacks highlights. Everything presented is fine, but needed more interesting moments and dialogues with a point. One of the few memorable exceptions is a neat sequence near the beginning, when Blackie (very good Clark Gable), an illegal casino owner, orders all the customers and staff to hide their chips in their pockets and flip the gambling tables by 180 degrees to "transform" them into ordinary pool tables, just before the police shows up to inspect the location. Unfortunately, a lot of juicy stuff seems to have been left out: the viewers are not shown how Blackie and Jim grew apart, and neither is Blackie's trial shown, except for the closing arguments, which thus undermined a lot of potential for conflict and anguish of his friend, Jim. The death penalty finale seems strangely out of place and questionable by today's standards. Still, the storyline flows smoothly, whereas it is interesting no notice William Powell and Myrna Loy before they would team up in the "Thin Man" series.


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