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ANGELS OVER BROADWAY(director: Ben Hecht/Lee Garmes; screenwriter: Ben Hecht; cinematographer: Lee Garmes; editor: Gene Havlick; music: George Antheil; cast: Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (Bill O’Brien), Rita Hayworth (Nina Barone), Thomas Mitchell (Eugene ‘Gene’ Gibbons), John Qualen (Charles Engle), George Watts (Joseph Hopper), Ralph Theodore (Dutch Enright), George Watts (Joseph Hopper), Fred Sweeney (Mr. Hugo), Constance Worth (Sylvia Marbe), Frank Conlan (Joe, stagehand), Eddie Foster (Louie Artino), Jack Roper (Eddie Burns); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ben Hecht; Columbia/Tri-Star; 1940)
“What turned me off was that the downbeat tone never changed for me even as it piled on all its moral lessons.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This stagy caper film is codirected by Lee Garmes and Ben Hecht (they also codirected in 1952 “Actors and Sin”). Hecht was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay. It’s a moralizing tale railing against a dissolute life; it tells of one night in the life of sundry down-and-out Times Square characters that include an embezzler Charles Engle (John Qualen), an unlucky con-man Bill O’Brien (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), an unlucky aspiring good looking dancer Rita Hayworth (Rita Hayworth), and an unlucky disillusioned zany famous playwright playing God named Gene Gibbons (Thomas Mitchell).

Vice President of the firm Charles Engle has been given by his angered boss (George Watts) until six o’clock in the morning to repay the $3,000 he stole to spend on his superficial wife, who gave the money to her lover to open a shop. After writing a suicide note and stashing it in his coat pocket Engle, on the rainy night, accidentally wanders into the swank Pigeon Club to think how he will commit suicide. Since Engle leaves a big tip to the cigarette gal, he’s mistaken by O’Brien as an out of town hick and possible high roller. Nina Barone has come to the club to apply for a dancing job, but can’t stay unless she has an escort and winds up at Engle’s table when he agrees to be her escort. Soon afterwards O’Brien joins them, pretending to know Nina, as he plans to lure Engle into the crooked poker game run by gangster gambler contact Dutch Enright (Ralph Theodore). Drunken playwright Gene Gibbons is about to leave, but is given Engle’s coat by mistake and reads the suicide note. Gibbons joins Engle at his table and makes it his personal mission this rainy night to save the troubled man’s life. The plot moves along with the elaborate scheme cooked up the playwright to swindle the crooked gamblers by vanishing after winning $3,000 in the initial “sucker money” the cheats will allow him to win before taking him for a ride.

It has a lot of fast chatter, with lines like “This town’s a giant dice game … come on, seven!”, a genial Damon Runyon feel and a respectable blend of cynicism and sentimentality for the human condition. What turned me off was that the downbeat tone never changed for me even as it piled on all its moral lessons and helped save a few lost souls in the process, and that the life-saving fanciful scheme was too hokey to work with amateur strangers suddenly acting selfless for the first time in their life to put their life at risk taking on hardened gangsters.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”