(director: Otto Brower; screenwriters: Allen Rivkin/Agnes Christine Johnston/Arthur Kober; cinematographer: Nick Musaraca; editor: Fred Knudston; music: Max Steiner; cast: William Gargan (Bill Allen), Frances Dee (Jane Mallory), Ralph Bellamy (Hal), Jack LaRue (Ricci), Gregory Ratoff(Gottlieb), Wallace Ford (Mike), Franklin Pangborn (Crocker), Robert Benchley (Radio announcer), Dorothy Burgess (Burnett’s moll), Henry B. Walthall (Judge Beacon), Betty Furness (Miss Saunders), Hobart Cavanaugh (Happy), June Brewster (Betty Kane), June Brewster (Miss Grand Rapids); Runtime: 60; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Merian C. Cooper; RKO; 1933-B/W)
“A Pre-Code, fast-paced, breezy and busy story of a brash NYC newsreel cameraman.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A Pre-Code, fast-paced, breezy and busy story of a brash NYC newsreel cameraman, Bill Allen (William Gargan). Director Otto Brower (“Dixie Dugan”/”Behind Green Lights”) stays out of the way and lets Gargan do his usual wise-guy thing. He also blends into the fiction real-life footage of fire, flood, and the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. It’s written as a mix of melodrama and comedy by Allen Rivkin, Agnes Christine Johnston and with additional dialogue by Arthur Kober. The narrative does a good job of realistically depicting the nearly obsolete newsreel photographers in action during their heyday and showing us vintage newsreels from those old days.
Bill Allen is the glib, skirt-chasing Photo-Tone newsreel cameraman on location to film an earthquake in Long Beach, who becomes romantically involved with the sassy but pretty young journalist covering the story for the Gazette, Jane Mallory (Frances Dee). She’s attracted to him but tells him she’s gotten engaged to good ol’ country boy Hal (Ralph Bellamy), from her Mississippi hometown, who offers her stability. Bill vows to steal her away from her square boyfriend, and chases after her to no avail when both return to the city. But she can’t resist Bill’s amoral way of looking at the world and never completely rebuffs him.
Bill, Jane and Hal are trapped together when covering a flood down south that gets out-of-control when the dam breaks because of cheaply made levees the town authorities don’t want disclosed. There’s also a confrontation with a gang of mobsters, whereby Jane’s imprisoned by them in their hideout after giving her newspaper a confession she manipulated from the gangster’s beaten moll (Dorothy Burgess). During this time Jane becomes sure she can’t resist Bill–who thinks and acts like her. Therefore when his quick-thinking actions free her by manipulating a fame-hungry hood (Jack La Rue) to give-up where the hideout is she is rescued. She thereby chooses Bill and gently dumps Hal, who sides with those she can’t sympathize with.
Though outdated, the lively film still has a few things to say to a modern audience about a democracy needing risk-taking journalists to get the truth out. It also has the wonderful character actor Franklin Pangborn playing a corruptible bathing beauty contest judge.
The cheaply made B film was an entertaining watch for the Depression-era audiences and still seems zippy.
REVIEWED ON 7/12/2019 GRADE: B-