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SMART MONEY (director: Alfred E. Green; screenwriters: John Bright/Kubec Glasmon; cinematographer: Robert Kurrle; editor: Jack Killifer; music: Leo F. Forbstein; cast: Edward G. Robinson (Nick ‘The Barber’ Venizelos), James Cagney (Jack), Evalyn Knapp (Irene Graham), Ralf Harolde (Sleepy Sam), Noel Francis (Marie), Maurice Black (Greek Barber), Margaret Livingston (Prosecutor’s Girl), Boris Karloff (Sport Williams), John Larkin (Snake Eyes), Ben Taggart (Hickory Short); Runtime: 90; Warner Bros.; 1931)
“A typical Warner Brothers crime drama of that period.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“Smart Money” is the only time Cagney and Robinson costarred in a film. In reality Cagney has a small part, as Robinson is the star. Edward G. Robinson is Nick the Barber, a small town gambler from Irontown who is known as a lucky gambler. His friends put together a stake for 10-grand and send him to the city to try his luck with big-time gambler Hickory Short.

In the city Nick meets a cigar vender named Marie, who steers him to Hickory Short’s room. But he doesn’t realize she’s a shill and he’s in a crooked game and Sleepy Sam (Ralf Harolde) is posing as Hickory, as a result he loses all his dough.

Nick returns to Irontown and gets together another stake, and Cagney becomes his partner and bodyguard. This time, he shaves the deck and beats Sleepy Sam for $50,000. He finally gets into an honest game with the real Hickory Short and wins $300,000. Nick is now a big-time operator and starts to open up an illegal gambling house of his own, but when the place is raided he can’t be arrested because there’s no proof that he’s involved with the gambling operation.

Nick’s only weakness is for blondes, which leads to his downfall. The District Attorney exploits this, as he is determined for political reasons to find some way to arrest Nick before the upcoming elections. When Nick stakes Irene Graham (Knapp) to some money after she tried suicide because she’s wanted for blackmail, the D. A. gets her to take his offer to set Nick up and in exchange she will not be charged with the crime. Irene plants a racing form in Nick’s suit, and when the cops raid the gambling joint they arrest him for having gambling paraphernalia. He’s also charged with manslaughter, as Cagney dies after Nick punches him for saying Irene is a snitch.

The film has Robinson rubbing the Negro Snake Eyes’s head for luck, in an embarrassing racist gesture (this is a modern-revisionist view).

It was a typical Warner Brothers crime drama of that period. Viewing it today, it might seem surprising how big Robinson and Cagney were as Hollywood stars. The film was from a different time period and is now only a curiosity piece, as the public’s tastes have radically changed.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”