Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama (1934)


(director: W. S. Van Dyke; screenwriters: based on a story by Arthur Caesar/Oliver H.P. Garrett/Joseph L. Mankiewicz; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Ben Lewis; music: Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart; cast: Clark Gable (Edward “Blackie” Gallagher), William Powell (Jim Wade), Myrna Loy (Eleanor Packer), Leo Carrillo (Father Joe), Nat Pendelton (Spud), George Sidney (Poppa Rosen), Muriel Evans (Tootsie), Isabel Jewell (Annabelle), Mickey Rooney (Young Blackie), Jimmy Butler (Young Jim Wade), Noel Madison (Manny Arnold), Thomas Jackson (Richard Snow), Shirley Ross (blonde singer in blackface); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David O. Selznik; Warner Home Video; 1934)
Noted as the last movie John Dillinger ever saw.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Noted as the last movie John Dillinger ever saw, as he was fingered by ‘the lady in red’ and gunned-down by the FBI as he left the Biograph Theater in Chicago. W. S. Van Dyke (“The Thin Man”/”San Francisco”/”Northwest Passage”)directs this snappy crime drama about childhood friends who turn out to be opposites–one bad, the other good.The film won the Oscar for Best Original Story of 1934. It was based on a story by Arthur Caesar and was written by Oliver H.P. Garrett and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The memorable song from Rodgers and Hart, “The Bad in Every Man”, later became known as “Blue Moon”. In 1942 it was remade as Northwest Rangers.

In 1904 NYC slum kids Blackie Gallagher (Mickey Rooney) and Jim Wade (Jimmy Butler) lose their parents in a ferry accident in the East River, but they are rescued by Father Joe (Leo Carrillo). The orphans are adopted by the kindly Poppa Rosen (George Sidney), a Jewish businessman. A few years later Poppa Rosen is trampled to death by police horses used to break up a riot against the Russian commie Leon Trotsky. The boys remain friends in the 1920s, even though Blackie (Clark Gable) grows up to be a big-time gambler and Jim (William Powell) becomes the crusading DA.

Blackie’s mistress Eleanor (Myrna Loy), a ‘swell dame,’ meets Jim and is impressed with his honesty and dedication to serve the public. When she fails to convince Blackie to stop gambling and settle down with her, they break-up. Later Jim marries her, with Blackie’s blessings.

When gambler Manny Arnold (Noel Madison) is slain, Jim is the prime suspect because his coat was accidentally left at the crime scene by his gangster pal Spud (Nat Pendelton). Blackie’s tailor makes a duplicate coat and Jim thereby believes he’s innocent. When Jim runs for governor, the former Assistant District Attorney Snow (Thomas Jackson), now an alcoholic, pressures his former boss to convict Blackie or face charges of abuse of power. When Blackie hears about it from Eleanor, he plugs Snow to protect his friend and have nothing stop him from being elected governor. Problem is the blind guy sitting outside the restroom of the murder scene was not blind and turns Blackie in. Jim then has to bring in a conviction, which gets his friend the electric chair. We’re supposed to view Blackie as a noble character because he willingly will do anything for his friend, even plug an enemy so he can be elected governor. He then talks the governor out of commuting his execution because the public wouldn’t like it and it could possible put his pal out of office.

The story is not too ethical (making Gable out to be a saintly figure was a hard nut to swallow) or hot (despite winning the writing award, it seemed like a threadbare story), but Gable and Powell are fine, Loy has one charming scene in a taxi when she gets flirted with by Jim, the dialogue is sharp and Dillinger reportedly enjoyed the movie (which is good enough for me, because if anyone should know gangster speak that should be Public Enemy Number One).