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HOUSE ACROSS THE BAY, THE (director: Archie Mayo; screenwriters: story by Myles Connolly/Kathryn Scola; cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad; editor: Dorothy Spencer; music: Walter Janssen; cast: George Raft (Steve Larwitt), Joan Bennett (Brenda Bentley), Lloyd Nolan (Slant Kolma), Walter Pidgeon (Tim Nolan), Gladys George (Mary Bogel), Billy Wayne (Barney), June Knight (Bebe), Joe Sawyer (Charlie), Peggy Shannon (Alice); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walter Wanger; United Artists; 1940)
Raft is no Bogie.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Archie Mayo (“The Petrified Forest”/”A Night in Casablanca”/”Bordertown”) directs this unpersuasive crime drama. It’s an independent feature produced by Walter Wanger. He was married to the film’s costar Joan Bennett. It’s from a story by Myles Connolly and is written by Kathryn Scola.

Cheeky torch singer Brenda Bentley (Joan Bennett) gets the attention of gruff NYC racketeer nightclub owner Steve Larwitt (George Raft), and after a whirlwind one-week romance they wed. When wise guy Steve tries to muscle in on another racketeer’s distillery turf, they try to rub him out. In an unbelievable plot development, that left me scratching my head, Brenda arranges with Steve’s crooked devious lawyer and partner Slant (Lloyd Nolan) for lover boy to be sent up the river for income tax evasion for only a year so that he can be safe in jail from the hoods (like, yeah, jail’s a safe place and after a year the mob’s memory would fade!). But Slant double-crosses Brenda, as he sees this as a chance to get rid of his partner and steal all the dough by taking over the business. So Slant makes sure the government learns of Steve’s other crooked schemes, and does a lousy job defending him. This gets Steve a ten-year stretch in Alcatraz, which breaks his heart being away for so long from the love of his life. The repentant Brenda takes an apartment across the bay from the prison and plans to wait there as a faithful “rock-widow” of Alcatraz for Steve’s release.

While living at her Telegraph Avenue luxury apartment, Brenda innocently meets the aggressive airplane manufacturer Tim Nolan (Walter Pidgeon) who can’t take no for an answer. Tim can’t get in her pants, but impresses her as a go-getter gentleman she would be with if she weren’t married to Steve. To avoid getting Tim involved with her mess, Brenda hides out in Alameda, California.When Slant comes to California, he easily finds her and blackmails her to become his mistress. After she refuses and he spots her with Tim, he becomes jealous. When Slant visits Steve, he drops a dime on Brenda’s boyfriend and mentions that Brenda framed him This causes the incensed Steve to make a successful prison break by swimming across the bay, but he can’t kill Brenda. Tim convinces Steve that his wife is loyal and that Slant is the dirty rat. You can bet your house that Steve knows how to handle Slant and that the indie producer knows how to come up with a happy ending (even if unmerited) out of such a formulaic Warner Bros.-type of prison pic.

The House Across the Bay is recommended only for Raft and Bennett fans, while I can hear others saying Raft is no Bogie (it’s the type of film Bogie made a name for himself at Warners and always acted better than the one-note Raft, who got the same type of heavy roles but couldn’t do much with them). It did only fair at the box office and upon its release was generally panned by critics. It was hard for me to find anyone in this film appealing, from the oily double-crossing shyster mouthpiece, the egocentric gangster spewing cornball love talk, the smarmy loyal gangster’s moll posing as a saintly wife, or the Pidgeon character filled with beans for himself and his blind love for a woman he hardly knows.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”