(director: Josef Von Sternberg; screenwriters: Charles and Jules Furthman/Herman J. Mankiewicz; cinematographer: Henry W. Gerrard; editor: Helen Lewis; cast: George Bancroft (Thunderbolt Jim Lang), Fay Wray (Ritzy), Richard Arlen (Bob Morgan), Robert Elliott (Prison Chaplain), Tully Marshall (Warden), James Spottswood (‘Snapper’ O’Shea), Fred Kohler (‘Bad Al’ Friedberg), Eugenie Besserer (Mrs. Morgan), E.H. Calvert (Dist. Atty. McKay), George Irving (Mr. Corwin),d Mike Donlin (Kentucky Sampson); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: B.P. Fineman; Famous Players/Paramount (Harvard Film Archive); 1929)
“The first talkie by Josef Von Sternberg.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The first talkie by Josef Von Sternberg (“Anatahan”/”The Blue Angel”/”Underworld”) results in a well-plotted early example of film noir. However the dialogue is clunky and the action is muted.
The charismatic underworld boss, Thunderbolt Jim Lang (George Bancroft), is dazzled by his attractive mistress Ritzy (Fay Wray) and would do anything to please her. He’s also so insanely jealous he wouldn’t take too kindly if another man flirted with her. When Thunderbolt gets sent up the river, he fears he might lose her.
Those fears come true when a small-time banker named Bob Morgan (Richard Arlen) begins a romance with his Ritzy. Thunderbolt learns about the affair through his sources, and while still in prison schemes to get Morgan framed and sent to his prison on a murder charge. To Thunderbolt’s surprise his Ritzy decides to marry Morgan while he’s on death row. Realizing, at last, that she loves Morgan and not him, before he gets executed Thunderbolt confesses that he framed Morgan. When Morgan is set free after Thunderbolt’s confession, he begins a new life with his wife.
The crime drama, scripted by Charles Furthman, Jules Furthman and Herman J. Mankiewicz, has a darkly cynical tone about a hardened criminal’s redemption.
It’s an odd gangster pic, as it seems more intent on being a romance than a gangster film. Nevertheless the dated film is entertaining and now serves more as a museum-like curio of an early crime talky.
REVIEWED ON 10/25/2015 GRADE: B- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/