Afraid to Talk (1932) Poster

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Powerful study of urban corruption, still timely today
django-17 June 2002
This 1932 Universal feature, directed by action-crime specialist Edward L. Cahn, is a powerful study of urban corruption that is still timely today. Although only 72 minutes long (what a lesson today's filmmakers could learn in that department!!!), the film presents a complete urban society--law enforcement, judiciary, city administration, Mayor's office, organized crime--and a completely corrupt system. Eric Linden plays a bellhop at a swank hotel who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time his life to be destroyed although he has done nothing wrong. He's simply not "well connected." Simultaneously, corrupt cops conspire with a corrupt DA and a corrupt judge to keep graft-paying mobsters from suffering any harm. The society depicted in the film is corrupt, although there are honest and well-meaning individuals in any particular department who do their best to fight the corruption and to stand up for honest working people--however, those individuals are either destroyed or ignored or frozen out and they have little effect. As a pre-Code film, Afraid to Talk does not pull any punches, and its ending is something you'd never see in a corporate product playing the multiplexes here in 2002. The film moves at a fast pace, and the last five minutes perhaps move at TOO fast a pace, but in its own way the pacing helps to create the feel of inevitability that gives the film its unique fatalistic feel. I watched this with a group of 30 people, all of whom were speechless, realizing the sad, painful truths the film depicts. Afraid to Talk is a forgotten classic that packs a powerful punch, and still does today, 70 years after its initial release. If you ever get a chance to see it, don't miss it.
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Political Corruption Theme Still Relevant.
GManfred13 August 2009
Like Gangster Pictures? "Afraid To Talk" may be the best of this genre ever made. It tells a story of corruption in which traditional ethical guidelines are erased, in which there are no 'good guys' or 'bad guys'- they're all bad. It was directed in breathtaking and expert fashion by Edward L. Cahn, who directed many crummy B's of the 50's and 60's, and this must be his best picture.This is a pre-code gangster picture and by my reckoning better than "Public Enemy" or "Little Caesar" and despite the fact that there is no big name gangster-type star here. In addition, this is a Universal production, which goes against the 30's Hollywood slogan that, "If it's a Universal it's a Horror". Somehow this backwater studio produced this taut, well-acted, hard-hitting movie and did it in 72 minutes worth of film. The baddest of the bad guys is Louis Calhern, doing his dastardly best (or worst) as a treacherous Asst.District Attorney. In this corner, as a hapless hotel bellhop, is Eric Linden, who is married to munchkin-like Sidney Fox, in a thankless role as a housewife. Other career crooked politicians in the cast are Berton Churchill, Edward Arnold and Robert Warwick. Look for Mayo Methot, Bogie's first wife,as a gang moll. Afraid To Talk has never, to anyones or any publications knowledge, been shown on TV, and is not available in any format except 35MM. Do not miss it if the opportunity ever arises. I was also impressed to learn of the existence of political corruption elsewhere - I'm from N.J. and I thought we invented it.
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The Merry Go Round of Civic Corruption
kidboots15 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The nominal stars were Eric Linden and Sidney Fox but the ones everyone will remember are Edward Arnold as head racketeer Jig Skelli and Louis Calhern as the cool and callous Assistant District Attorney John Wade. The movie was based on the controversial play, "Merry Go Round' which only ran for about 40 performances but was all about blatant municipal corruption. Eric Linden excelled in another of his "tragic boy of the screen" roles. He plays Ted Martin, a bellboy in a big city apartment. When he answers a call for room service he gets caught in the cross fire of a gangland shooting. Ted is shot and left for dead but he lives and identifies Jig Skelli as the assailant - even though his young wife Peggy (Sidney Fox) has already been threatened - if he talks!!! Of course the local council is completely corrupt and in the racketeer's pockets. When honest judges and councilors quit in disgust, they are replaced with stooges. Ted becomes embroiled in a nightmare world where the only other trustworthy person is his wife. After being persuaded (by being given police protection) to identify Skelli, Wade "through the kindness of his heart" sends Ted and his wife to another city to start over, but before they can leave, Ted is hauled off to the police station where he is given a massive beating to persuade him to confess to the crime as it will get everyone of the hook!! The scenes of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" must have been a real eye opener for the public. The municipal meetings, not being able to start until the real "civic leaders" - Jig and his boys - arrive, to give their orders. The Mayor (Berton Churchill) is a silent partner in "Skellis" speakeasy and Louis Calhern is a standout with his icy coolness that never deserts him, even at the end. There is always a gangster's moll, this time played by Mayo Methot and she is suitably slinky, warbles a tune and even manages to switch allegiances to Wade - or does she?? It was also the end of the line for Sidney Fox as well. It was her last role for Universal and it was a part that any young actress could have played. Her complicated love affairs had ruined her career. Eric Linden had a few dramatic moments as the innocent bellboy, but unfortunately only had another year of outstanding roles left. His sensitive boy next door style was being replaced by rugged he man types, such as Clark Gable etc. Highly Recommended.
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Solid programmer, minor flaws.
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre16 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
'Afraid to Talk' is one of those efficient low-budget Hollywood features that deserve to be better known. This drama of corrupt politicos is very much of the 1930s. I don't mean to say that modern politicians are less corrupt than their 1930s counterparts, but the corruption in this film is heavy with the milieu of the Depression era. This movie's appeal is helped considerably by a large cast of familiar faces. Even Arthur Housman gets a look-in, doing his perennial drunk act. SPOILERS AHEAD. The very talented character actor Edward Arnold spent most of his film career portraying two types: incorruptible authority figures, and seemingly incorruptible authority figures who are secretly crooks. Here, for once, Arnold plays an outright crook who doesn't hide his dishonesty ... and named Jig Skelli, no less. Skelli's rival for control of the underworld is one Jake Stransky, played by Robert Warwick. I disliked this casting: Warwick was a deeply cultured actor with a cultivated stage voice (although American, he sometimes played upper-class Englishmen). Warwick, a good actor within his range, is simply not believable as a thick-ear gangster. When Skelli rubs out Stransky, the hit is witnessed by bellboy Eddie Martin (Eric Linden). Determined to leave no witnesses, Skelli tries to kill Eddie but merely wounds him. Eddie grasses to the authorities ... which, in this movie, proves to be a mistake. The district attorney (Tully Marshall, excellent), his assistant (Louis Calhern, quite good) and the mayor are all crooked too, and in Skelli's pocket. The mayor is played by Berton Churchill, who sometimes played respectable authority figures but more typically (and more effectively) portrayed authority figures who are secretly corrupt. Churchill's most memorable role was as the banker who embezzles from his own bank in 'Stagecoach': he plays a similar character here. The D.A. realises it wouldn't be a good idea to indict Skelli, since Skelli has got the goods on every crooked politician in town. But the murder of Stransky has got to be prosecuted. So the D.A. indicts poor Eddie Martin! Talk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time! The innocent Eddie is pressured into giving a false confession, and now he's looking at a death sentence. Eric Linden briefly played lead roles in this and a few other films. As the hapless bellboy Eddie, Linden is impressive in a role requiring a range of emotions. Viewers who have never run afoul of the justice system might have difficulty believing that an innocent man would confess to murder; I found Linden's performance entirely believable, and I'm painfully aware of the tactics which corrupt police and prosecutors employ to wring confessions out of the innocent. Much of 'Afraid to Talk' is excellent. Although there are several fine supporting performances, Sidney Fox is insipid and dull in the female lead as Eddie's frantic wife. Also, the last reel of the movie seems rushed ... as if the scriptwriters needed to tie up the plot before they ran out of typing paper. My rating for this one: 8 solid points out of 10.
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A hard-hitting Pre-Code that pulls no punches (except one)
melvelvit-125 February 2015
Warning: Spoilers
A hotel bellhop witnesses a gangland murder and it almost rips the lid off a corrupt city ...almost...

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...
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