Nick Cochran, an American in exile in Macao, has a chance to restore his name by helping capture an international crime lord. Undercover, can he mislead the bad guys and still woo the handsome singer/petty crook, Julie Benson?
Josef von Sternberg,
A young kid from Upstate New York named Eddie (Landis) is conned into fronting for a speakeasy on Broadway. Throughout the con there is an inevitable chorus-girl with a heart of gold (Costello), a cop-killing gangster boss (Oakman) and his downtrodden ex-girlfriend (Brockwell). Written by
Director Bryan Foy, of the famous family, directed this, supposedly the first all-talking feature film.
"All talking," although there were inter-titles used by way of narration and introductions, and very non-intrusively.
Foy went on to be the head of the Warner Brothers B picture unit and made some very good movies.
"Lights of New York" is by no means a perfect movie, especially to viewers more used to camera mobility and varied angles. But for its time and as a pioneer in sound production, it is remarkable.
The actors were understated, a style that was not exactly in vogue until later. In fact, Jimmy Cagney mentions in his autobiography how he and some of the others of the Warner stock company were praised for that very characteristic.
Since even Warners, the sound pioneer, was still learning how to use microphones and how to avoid sounds from everything but the actors, Foy deserves all the plaudits he can get for this effort.
The story is about small-towners conned by slicksters from New York and tricked into involvement with bootleggers -- who are also killers. (Alcohol prohibition caused crime, a well-known phenomenon -- well-known today. Yet that lesson has not yet been applied to drug prohibition, despite the fact that this country has the highest incarceration rate and numbers in the world, mostly because of drug laws. We need someone to sing "When Will They Ever Learn?")
Helene Costello plays the girl who left the small town earlier to get into show biz, and she was a truly lovely young woman. Apparently she had personal problems that seemed to contribute to her not making more movies, and I think that a loss for us, as well as for her.
Most of the rest of the cast, with the particular exception of Eugene Palette and the slight exception of Wheeler Oakman, never achieved much by way of fame, but all were acceptable or better in this pioneering movie.
Leonard Maltin, who knows a little about movies, rates it 2.5 out of four stars, which proves he's pretty smart because he almost agrees with me.
"Lights of New York" might be historically interesting more than purely entertaining, but it is that and I hope movie lovers will get a chance to see it. I believe it is on DVD.
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