Forgotten gangster film with great performances and visuals
This film was shown at Capitolfest 2014, and although it does not feature that festival's featured star, William Powell, it has something in common with him in that in this film John Wray is portraying the same gambler that William Powell portrayed in "Street of Chance" - Arnold Rothstein - although with big differences in how their personal and business lives were run.
Morton Bradstreet is a big time gambler, and when somebody says he won't pay a gambling debt he has a unique way of reacting - He sells them life insurance, sets the next of kin (usually a wife) as beneficiary, and collects the premium before sending the deadbeat on his way, where he is usually whacked at a convenient distance from Bradstreet and his office. Then Bradstreet "befriends" the grieving widow and gets her to let him invest the life insurance money for her. This is his way of getting back his money.
Bradstreet's girl is Connie Colton (Betty Compson), who was one of the most overworked actresses of the early talkie era. She is introduced to the audience while singing in a sequined dress atop a grand piano that is slided into the dining room of the high class place where she works.
Add into the mix a young reporter who wants to get the goods on Bradstreet (John Harron as Jay Grant) and you have a real love triangle with somewhat homo-erotic overtones. Jay comes to love Connie and tries to entice her out of the life, who still has feelings for Bradstreet, who is quite taken with Jay himself as he presents himself to Bradstreet as somebody green who wants to learn the ropes of professional gambling. Wray's character shows genuine hurt when he finds out his young protégé is betraying him, that he is actually a member of the press.
How does this all work out? Watch and find out, although good luck with that since Capitolfest was this film's first outing since the 1930's. Let me just say that John Wray surprised me with his range here, although in the final scenes I believed he was going to die of giggling. Recommended as something you wouldn't expect to come out of early talkie Universal plus a good film in its own right.
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