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|Index||17 reviews in total|
In the '30s, Warner Bros. specialized in gritty, violent urban crime dramas, and no studio did them better. This tough-as-nails gangster film is, surprisingly enough, from MGM, and compares favorably with the Warners product--in fact, it comes out ahead in several respects. The cast is terrific--with Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Ralph Bellamy and Clark Gable, to name a few--and George Hill's direction is as energetic and forceful as any of the directors at Warners. Another bonus is the well-known MGM gloss; it may have been just a B picture, but a "B" at MGM was as good as, and often better than, an "A" at other studios. Although this is one of Gable's earlier performances, his star quality is unmistakable--he explodes onto the screen, his good looks and charm in full force. Ralph Bellamy, whose career was spent mostly playing good-natured second leads, does a top-notch job as a two-timing, scheming gang leader who gets his just desserts after a double-cross. Even Wallace Beery manages to rein in his tendency to ham it up and contributes a solid job as the murderous "Slaughterhouse" Scorpio, who takes over Bellamy's gang. Lewis Stone as a corrupt lawyer who actually runs the gang shows what a good job he could do when given a part he could sink his teeth into, and Jean Harlow proved that she wasn't just another pretty face (and great body); she really shines in the last part of the film, especially during the courtroom scenes. This is a first-rate picture, with sharp writing, tough, no-nonsense direction and superior performances from all concerned. Don't miss it.
While not on the level of the work being done in Warners crime films during
the same period ("The Public Enemy," "Little Caesar"), "The Secret Six" is a
fine picture with a lot to recommend it.
Primarily, this comes from the cast. Wallace Beery, then at the height of his fame, makes for a good central figure as Louis "Slaughterhouse" Scorpio, as the name implies, a former slaughterhouse worker turned bootlegger and murderer. His ordering "a hunk o'steak" after spending all day crushing animals heads with a sledgehammer suggests, right at the beginning, that killing means nothing to this huge primate of a man. Lewis Stone, on the wrong side of the law for once, is Newton, the dandyish crooked lawyer and head of the gang, giving an understated, sinister performance and making every scene count. Ralph Bellamy, one of the movies' perennial nice guys, plays a very, very bad guy here, as the gangster who brings Scorpio into the gang, to his later regret. And veteran Marjorie Rambeau, while she has little to do overall, is good as Bellamy's blowsy mistress, Peaches, a far cry from the society matrons she would specialize in later in her career.
But the big surprise, and one of the main reasons for watching this picture, are the solid early performances of Jean Harlow and a young, sans-mustache Clark Gable. Both were free-lancers who were hired for this film on a one-time basis. MGM was so impressed with their work as, respectively, Anne, the cigarette girl who loves and loses reporter Johnny Mack Brown, and Carl, the crusading reporter who aids the Secret Six of the title in bringing down Stone and Beery's criminal organization, that they were hired to long-term contracts right after the picture was completed. Both turn in solid performances. Those who think Harlow couldn't act should see her in the last third of the film, particularly the trial scene. And the sheer mile-a-minute energy Gable brings to his role makes his every scene watchable. Within the next few years, these two would establish themselves as the stuff of Hollywood legend.
Directed by the excellent, underrated George Hill ("Tell It To the Marines," "Min and Bill," "Hell Divers"), scripted by the great Frances Marion, and with the aforementioned solid cast and the usual MGM gloss, "The Secret Six" makes for a very enjoyable film, for historians, crime film buffs, fans of the stars, and just those of us who appreciate a good, involving story.
This is a great gangster movie with a very talented cast. Wallace Beery
plays a Capone-type hoodlum that allows nothing to stand in his way. Well,
tax problems do put his power and glory on the skids. The veteran actor
Lewis Stone is a 'high brow' crime lord. Usual good guy Ralph Bellamy is a
bootlegger/night club owner. The Chicago night life and gangland activity
keeps this flick rocking back and forth, but well worth
Talk about a great supporting cast. Get a load of this: Johnny Mack Brown, Clark Gable and the enchanting Jean Harlow. Fun to watch on the same evening with SCAREFACE(32) and THE STAR WITNESS(31)
I saw this recently on TCM and was quite impressed. This film came
before the better known gangster movies of that era-- "Little Caesar,"
"Public Enemy," and, the greatest of them all-- "Scarface." It was also
made at a time when sound recording technology for motion pictures was
very new and still in development. The first talkie gangster movie,
which happened to be the first all-talkie movie, was "Lights of New
York," made in 1928. In that film the equipment was so clunky that the
actors had to speak loud and slow and stay close to the microphone. By
1931, several improvements had come along, but it was still a difficult
technical achievement to make a film like this.
There is a scene towards the beginning where Ralph Belamy, who does a great job as a sinister hood, fires a tommy-gun in a night club and kills a guy. Then, he and his cohorts run out and jump in a car. The rival gang pursues them, firing their own tommy-gun. Finally, the rivals crash. But during the chase scene, we are taken through city streets, with the cars running fast and the machine guns blazing. Granted, this was done much better a year or so later in "Scarface," but this film set the precedent.
The film is also worth seeing for the Clark Gable role. He shows the charm that made him a star. Harlow is also great as the moll. For a film made that long ago-- at the very beginning of the sound era-- it is well worth viewing whenever it appears again on Turner or any other channel.
This crime drama features both an excellent cast and an excellent
script by Frances Marion. The story could easily be filmed today and
become a huge box office hit. Louie Scorpio (Wallace Beery) is an
uneducated meathead from the streets with a thirst for money. He learns
that bootlegging is a great way to get what he wants, so he joins up
with Johnny (Ralph Bellamy) and "Newt" (Lewis Stone) who run a powerful
gang in town. After bumping Johnny off, Louie becomes the leader and
fixes half the town in his favor. Among the most desirable allies are
the town reporters Hank (Johnny Mack Brown) and Carl (Clark Gable). He
uses a beautiful dame (Jean Harlow) to keep them in line, but can't
seem to shake the cops.
For an early talkie, the camera-work here is surprisingly innovative. There are scenes that feel very static and others that move fluidly through various sets. The lighting is fantastic and creates a beauty for a bleak storyline. Unfortunately, the sound quality isn't so impressive. Sometimes the dialogue is difficult to understand, so the story can become confusing in some areas. Thankfully, audiences will be able to figure things out fairly easily.
This is an odd movie on two accounts. First, the plot for this movie
appears to have been stolen by Warner Brothers just four years later in
SPECIAL AGENT. Both films feature a newspaper reporter who is actually
a government agent. And both have these reporters gaining close access
to mob leaders in order to convict them of tax fraud. I just can't
believe the story parallels are just coincidental. Second, while he
receives very low billing, Clark Gable is given one of his first
starring roles. Despite the low billing, he is second only to Wallace
Beery in the film in regard to time on screen and importance to the
As mentioned above, this film concerns Gable getting close to mobster Beery in order to help a secret grand jury gain enough information for an indictment. However, unlike SPECIAL AGENT, there is more emphasis on the exploits of the mob leader and the newspaper reporter's role is slightly less prominent. While the film was certainly more original that SPECIAL AGENT, the film wasn't quite as polished and seemed a bit shrill. As a result, if you only want to see one film, SPECIAL AGENT is probably a slightly better film.
This movie is a thinly veiled attempt to portray the life of Al Capone. The violent rise and fall of the gangster, portrayed by Wallace Beery, the taking over of the government of an adjacent small town, the eventual tax problem that Beery's character has...these and other subplots are mirror images of Capone's Chicago. While not as well known today as "The Public Enemy" or "Little Caesar", this movie is definitely worth watching. It also features a very young Clark Gable is a supporting good-guy role and, of all people, Ralph Bellamy as a gangster.
The Secret Six, produced by William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan
Pictures for MGM, has an interesting message about extralegal means to
bring down systemic corruption. The title figures are six notable
citizens who are all masked, representing all kinds of interests who
come together when organized crime takes over a city. We never see The
Secret Six, they only come in the last third of the film. But we do see
how they operate.
The films is the story of the rise and fall of Wallace Beery who becomes an Al Capone like figure, the real brains of the outfit however is the mob's lawyer Lewis Stone. With Stone pulling the strings and polluting the justice system, Beery rises to power in a typical gangland battle. When the regular law enforcement channels don't work, The Secret Six start working with the federal government to bring Beery down. Working with them are a pair of reporters Johnny Mack Brown and Clark Gable. A key witness in the events is Jean Harlow in her first MGM film.
For those who are used to seeing Lewis Stone as the rock of integrity as Judge Hardy, Stone as a bottom feeding shyster lawyer will be quite the revelation. Maybe because he's cast against type he's so good, he just oozes sanctimony in front of a jury.
One character I wish that we'd seen a bit more of is Paul Hurst who is Beery's friend and whom the gang elects mayor of a small town. Once doing that the gang moves on to a big city where they take down top gangster boss John Miljan. The situation parallels Al Capone's takeover of Hawthorne, Illinois. I wish Hurst hadn't just disappeared from the story after his election.
The Secret Six was the first of six films that Clark Gable and Jean Harlow worked in. Next to Joan Crawford, Gable teamed with Harlow more than any other leading lady. Neither of them however are the stars here, they are billed way down in the cast list. Marjorie Rambeau also has a nice role as a good time girl who Beery uses as a doormat, but Rambeau has the last laugh on him.
Although Warner Brothers was the gangster studio with their emphasis on working class films, The Secret Six could give any of the Warner products a run in quality.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While Warner Bros. focused on the individual (Rico in "Little Ceasar",
Tom Powers in "The Public Enemy") MGM's few early crime films were
ensembles ("The Big House") and usually showing the action from the
crime fighters' point of view ("The Secret Six", "The Beast of the
City"). Frances Marion was quite amazing in her ability to deliver
gritty and realistic dialogue - "The Big House" was not her only
venture into crime - she also wrote the dialogue and story for "The
Secret Six", an unusual crime melodrama from MGM.
Scorpio, nicknamed "Slaughterhouse" (Wallace Beery) is an abattoir worker who is talked into a life of crime by his friends, bootleggers Johnny (Ralph Bellamy) and Nick (Paul Hurst). The gang is run by philosophizing alcoholic lawyer Newton (Lewis Stone) and Slaughterhouse is ambitious to take over from Johnny. In a gun battle between a rival bootlegger, Smiling Joe Colimo's (John Miljan) kid brother is killed and Colimo vows revenge. Johnny tells Colimo that it was Slaughterhouse that killed his kid brother (even though it wasn't) - Johnny wants him out of the way, he is getting too ambitious. But Scorpio survives a shoot-out on the wharf and Johnny's days are numbered.
Time passes and "trigger happy" Scorpio is now the boss and under Newton's guidance, he invades the city. He is now wealthy and has also inherited "Peaches" (Marjorie Rambeau), Johnny's moll, although Scorpio now has his eyes on Anne.
Two newspaper reporters Carl (Clark Gable) and Hank (John Mack Brown, just loved his sweet southern accent) vie for the attentions of Anne (a ravishing Jean Harlow). There was such a rapport between Harlow and Gable - a real natural friendliness. This was the first of their 6 pairings. Unbeknownst to Hank, Carl is working with the "secret six" - "representing the greatest force for law and order in the United States" . Hank is also working on a hunch - that the same gun killed Johnny and Colimo - and goes to Scorpio's house to confront him. Snooping around, he finds the gun. Hank is shot dead on a train but not before Anne reveals her love.
She now insists on testifying against Scorpio - even at the risk of her life. When the jury retires there is much discussion - one of the jurors passes around a diamond encrusted cigarette case - a gift Scorpio uses to bribe people. He is found not guilty this time, but the "secret six" have an ace up their sleeve.
It is a ripping good story about the rise of a cold blooded killer - like "Little Caesar" but without the raw realism of that film. MGM went more for style.
During Prohibition, scruffy stockyards worker Wallace Beery (as Louis
"Slaughterhouse" Scorpio) is offered a more lucrative job bootlegging
with pal Ralph Bellamy (as Johnny Franks). After a shooting, mob boss
Lewis Stone (as Richard Newton) covers for Mr. Beery, who has become
his right hand man. Investigating reporters Clark Gable (as Carl
Luckner) and John Mack Brown (as Hank Rogers) try to avoid bribes while
getting close enough to blow the lid off the racket. "The Secret Six"
assists in crime-solving...
This film is too cluttered, though it helps that Mr. Stone doubles as a lawyer. The crowded cast tries, with Mr. Beery continuing to be an engaging "talkie" presence. Berry first appeared in the "Quigley Publications" annual poll of money-making stars in 1931 (at #6) and remained for most of the 1930s. While listed down in the credits, by the end you'll know Mr. Gable is a star on the rise. Platinum blonde Jean Harlow (as Anne Courtland) and floozy Marjorie Rambeau (as Peaches) provide feminine companionship.
**** The Secret Six (4/18/31) George W. Hill ~ Wallace Beery, Clark Gable, Lewis Stone, Jean Harlow
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