The Big Gamble (1931)
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Shot beautifully by under-rated DP Hal Mohr, this movie, with a newly mobile sound camera is very good visually. Unfortunately, leads Boyd and Sebastian are not quite out of the silent era and director Fred Niblo is not so good at directing the dialogue -- nor does the depression that the leads evince for the first half of the movie, help things much. James Gleason and Zasu Pitts are, of course, excellent, but, despite an excitingly shot finale,the acting prevents this from being more than an averagely good picture.
The bad news is Fred Niblo's surprisingly slow, stodgy direction - by 1931 virtually no one was still having the actors pause between hearing their cues and speaking their own lines, but Niblo directs like it was still 1929 - Mohr's mostly plain, uncreative cinematography (which doesn't sustain the marvelous atmospherics of the opening scenes), and some dubious performances by the supporting players. William Collier, Jr. comes off way too queeny as Johnny - we can't muster much sympathy for someone this wimpy - and Warner Oland, though playing a character with an Anglo name, inexplicably not only wears his Charlie Chan makeup but speaks in his Charlie Chan voice. Though a previous silent version of this story was made, "The Big Gamble" really should have been filmed a third time in the 1940's; its plot would have been a natural for film noir.
The cast names bespeak a quality production; the director was a good one; the editor, Joseph Kane, did a great job with what he had, and, as an aside, it's interesting that he, as so many other editors, later became a crackerjack director himself.
Bill Boyd was a great favorite with audiences, especially in his "Hopalong Cassidy" days, and with, especially, Cecil B. DeMille. He was a good actor, but was even more a strong personality.
Dorothy Sebastian was a beautiful woman and, especially in this movie, a good, intense actress. She died awfully young, and in her last roles didn't even get screen credit. That seems a shame.
Prolific James Gleason got second billing, even over the female love interest, and made his usual hit. He was around a long time, but we could use a character actor like him today.
Other cast members deserve praise too, as does the stunt work. All in all, this is a good movie, perfect for a relaxing watch.
This plot is very tough to believe and needlessly complicated. Arranging for a wife as well as Gleason seems a bit like overkill. Simply having Oland be the beneficiary seems to make far less sense--but, of course, this changes the plot and then there's no reason for Boyd to change his mind. Despite this rather substantial plot hole and a slow first half of the film, it all managed to pull itself together in the second half--and culminating with a very well-staged chase scene where you DON'T have cheap rear-projected shots and you have some very violent and realistic elements (making it perhaps the best car chase of the era). No cheap stock footage here or a crash that looks ridiculous--it's very well done and made my heart race.
Overall, this is a B-movie with some serious flaws, but provided you can just watch the film without questioning them, you'll be very pleasantly surprised by the end--nearly earning this film an 8. A good job of acting by all except Oland--whose delivery, unfortunately, isn't too much better than his Charlie Chan character in other films!
Having a shot gun marriage with Beverly, Dorothy Sebastian, who's kid brother Johonnie, William Collier Jr,is also in debt to North all Alan has to do is wait out the year and on New Years Day 1932 get himself killed in a staged accident and all his troubles will be over! Or so he thought! Playing the stock and real estate markets Alan not only makes enough money to pay North $5,000.00 debt off but also falls in love with his wife Beverly with now getting himself killed the very last thing on his mind!
***SPOILERS*** The movie goes into overdrive with North and his boys out to murder both Alan & Johnnie just for making him look bad as a both a gangster and businessman. This after Alan gets the other $100,000.00 that North wanted in a card game and thus had Johnnie kidnapped by North's men after he came to his pad to off him himself and ended up getting kidnapped by him. This leads to as wild car chase with Squint Dugan, James Gleason, one of North's goon but really an undercover US Government Treasurer Agent behind the wheel.As for North he gets his when placed under arrest and about to be driven to the nearest police station to get booked for attempted murder and kidnapping, as well as racketeering, tries to make a run for it and is crushed by, after jumping out of the car, oncoming traffic! Now with all his troubles behind him Alan and Beverly get married for the second time and this time it's not for a year but for keeps.