Rich playboy Pike Winslow dons the mantle of 'The Reckoner', a mysterious avenger, when he learns that his lady friend Barbara Gerry's father has been framed in a bank embezzlement scandal.... See full summary »
Boris Karloff was shooting this movie when James Whale, director of Frankenstein (1931), spotted him eating lunch in the Universal commissary. Whale saw Karloff's height and rather boxy head and decided to offer him a test for the role of the Monster in "Frankenstein," which became Karloff's star-making role. See more »
The first name of the district attorney changes several times during the film. He is Carter Harrison in the opening credits, Martin Harrison on the door to his office, Carter again in the newspaper headlines announcing his murder, Martin in the final scenes and Carter in the closing credits. See more »
Why watch this movie? Three words: William Henry Pratt
In 1928 a new play about fast-talking newspapermen took Broadway by storm: "The Front Page" by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur packed the stage with jaded reporters, mean cops, corrupt politicians, and hard-bitten dames. And when the talkie revolution swept Hollywood soon afterward a new movie genre was born: the city room saga. Several popular comedy-dramas set wholly or partly in newspaper offices were produced in the early '30s, including Five Star Final, Platinum Blonde, Blessed Event and the first film version of The Front Page itself. Following the Hecht-MacArthur prototype, hallmarks of the genre tended to be rat-a-tat pacing, violent action, and a deeply cynical attitude that presaged the Noir classics of the '40s.
Graft is an example of this sort of movie, but it's far from the best of the lot. As film-making goes it's little more than competent. We wait in vain for colorful types to deliver snappy wisecracks or spit out underworld slang; instead, the simpletons who comprise this film's characters dutifully deliver their pedestrian dialog through scene after scene, and when the movie's over not a single line stands out as memorable. Christy Cabanne's direction is as uninspired as the script, and at no point does he attempt to enliven the proceedings with any creative flourishes. Cabanne tells this routine crime story of political corruption and murder at a deliberate pace, which feels slower because of the lack of background music, and without much humor, although the plot takes such a ludicrous turn at the finale that some viewers may chuckle anyhow. Perhaps the movie's biggest drawback is the personality of our hero Dusty Hotchkiss, played by Regis Toomey. Toomey was always a dependable actor and sometimes an excellent one (as in the first-rate melodrama Kick In, where he held his own opposite Clara Bow), but here he is stuck playing the most exasperating "hero" imaginable. Dusty Hotchkiss is an eager beaver cub reporter who forgets the name of a key witness, can't describe a suspect's face, writes a story implicating the wrong person in a murder, and allows the actual killer to slip away with ease. Harry Langdon would have been a more formidable leading man than this guy, and at least he's funny.
Still and all, however, there is one reason to watch this film. The crime kingpin's creepy henchman -- a character named "Terry," all of things -- is played by Boris Karloff, and although his dialog is just as dull as everyone else's Karloff at least brings an air of menace to his role, and lends the movie some much-needed color. Terry is a thug of a decidedly misogynistic bent: when he isn't kidnapping or killing people he's warning his boss (who is having problems with Pearl, his moll) that dames are all double-crossers who aren't worth the trouble. Hearing these words delivered in that inimitable voice, matched by the sight of those dark, hollow eyes and strikingly gaunt features, gives these moments considerably more juice than anything in the other scenes. My favorite bit comes when Terry has to lure Pearl onto a yacht where she will presumably be rubbed out, and his manner changes: suddenly, the killer oozes sinister sweetness and phony cheer. I was reminded of the Grinch promising Cindy Lou Who that he'd return her Christmas tree just as soon as its broken light was repaired.
Karloff fans willing to watch him in anything will be impressed at the way this still unknown character actor deftly steals the show from the other players, although this particular show was hardly worth stealing. Regis Toomey, for his part, would get another shot at playing a reporter in a vastly superior example of a city room comedy-drama, perhaps the best of them all: His Girl Friday, Howard Hawks' 1940 remake of the Hecht-MacArthur play that launched the whole cycle.
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