Afraid to Talk (1932)
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I must say this Universal gangster film made "Warner Bros cynicism" look like child's play. "The Czar Of Noir" Eddie Muller screened this and the same year's OKAY America (another Universal with Edward Arnold & Louis Calhern) for one of his "Noir City" film festivals as a classic example of "proto-noir". Some call it a "cheat" (Linden survives his hanging) but the ending, to me, is both jaded and hopeful, no mean feat -and Cahn's handling of the boy's "interrogation" still has the power to shock. It's the kind of story that'll never go out of style but it was also very topical. Although pains were taken to show the city in question wasn't New York (Linden tells his bride that his brother in NYC will help them make a new start), it was obvious to one and all at the time that it was a thinly disguised account of Mayor Jimmy Walker's corrupt reign.
I also liked the Pre-Code sensibility on display; for example, when the bellhop and the elevator boy are taking the lift up to answer a call, the bellhop says, "I'll bet it's a dame" and when an effeminate man enters, the elevator boy forks over a quarter. And when one of the DA's men starts developing a conscience after the bellhop's beating, his co- hort snarls, "Whaddaya, going 'pansy' on us?"
Simpering Sidney Fox and slinky Mayo Methot (a cross between Mae West and Baclanova) made for a nice distaff contrast. Fox (who, like Helen Twelvetrees, lost momentum and faded away when the Code came in) had been forgotten for decades until her name cropped up on Jack Paar's TONIGHT SHOW in the 60s when Jack was interviewing Bette Davis. They were discussing Davis' debut and Bette pointed out that it was actually Sidney Fox and not she who was THE BAD SISTER. Jack did a double take and gasped, "He was??" Sid, the mistress of both Laemmele Sr. and Jr., eventually committed suicide, just like Twelvetrees.
This film was remade in East Germany as HOTELBOY ED MARTIN (1955) and one has to question the intent. It's obvious that the bellboy was "everyman" in America but in East Germany was the corrupt system a pluperfect example of capitalism at work? Hmmm...