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What a great showcase of Paramount contract talent
In particular this is a great showcase for George Raft in his first leading role and Mae West in her first film role. Raft plays Joe Anton, a bootlegger who buys a mansion at a foreclosure auction and turns it into a speakeasy. Anton wants what he thinks the Park Avenue crowd has now that he has the money - class. He employs Mabel Jellyman (Alison Skipworth) to tutor him properly in elocution and current events. But Anton has other troubles with his current life as a gangster besides not knowing what fork to use. Rival gangsters are demanding that he sell out to them or they will rub him out. He has two old girlfriends that keep showing up unannounced too - Maudie (Mae West) is easy going about things, but Iris (Wynne Gibson) is demanding to the point of being violent that their old relationship continue. Matters get really complicated when "a real lady" shows up alone night after night at Joe's speakeasy. She's not looking for a pickup, in fact she shuns advances of any kind. It turns out she's the destitute ex-resident of Joe's mansion who misses her old house and her old life.
If you're looking for a really clever tight script, that doesn't seem to be the purpose of this film. It's just one of Paramount's sophisticated pre-codes with lots of little scenes that make the whole thing worthwhile. The scene with a hung-over Alison Skipworth getting a job offer from Mae West with Skipworth trying to tactfully figure out exactly what business Mae is in is priceless - Skipworth can't help but notice that Maudie (Mae West) is covered in diamonds with no visible means of support. There's been lots of speculation about the nature of the relationship between Joe and his man Friday Leo (Roscoe Karnes) given the rather revealing bath scene the two men are in, but I think that was just an opportunity for a little precode male beefcake.
Highly recommended as one of a very few of the Paramount precodes actually on DVD.
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