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Universal in the early 30's is mainly remembered as the home of the horror film, but in fact they ventured into other kinds of films as well. This fast little precode seems like it might have come from Warner Bros., but instead it is the product of Universal. Boris Karloff plays "Happy" the owner of a night club and husband to an unfaithful wife, not that he doesn't have a roving eye himself. George Raft shows up briefly in the film as a tough guy who has an eye for chorus girl Mae Clark. Finally there is Lew Ayres as the son of a prominent family whose mother has just recently shot his father dead and been acquitted. This is not the mom of a heart of gold that you see in so many depression era films, and the young man spends night after night in Happy's club trying to forget his troubles. Add in a snappy Busby Berkeley number and Happy's run-in with the suppliers of his bootleg whiskey and you have a very fast moving little precode. The film is visually interesting too, with an introduction similar to 1929's "Broadway", also by Universal, minus the silver-skinned giant calling the city to awaken and join him in his debauchery. Highly recommended, that is, if you can ever find a copy.
Fun, saucy, fast-moving and short, Night World is a neat little movie
from the early thirties, before Prohibition was repealed, when Hoover
was still in the White House; and with a Depression still new there was
yet a Gatsby mood in the cities.
The credits of this movie are unusual. Busby Berkeley did the choreography. Alfred Newman composed what music there is. The cast is oddball for any sort of film, but especially peculiar for this kind: Lew Ayres, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff, Hedda Hopper, George Raft and Jack La Rue. Director Hobart Henley handles his material extremely well, and gives it pace and energy. There is joy, sadness, corruption, disillusionment and heartbreak in the movie, and the ending is bittersweet but not downbeat.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
....just what a true pre-coder should be like!!! The opening shots
instantly introduce you to the world of vice - "pick-ups" discreetly
putting on their stockings while men lie, intoxicated, on the bed,
bootleg hooch flowing freely and gangland shootings - just another
night in the city.
This was the last of 5 movies Mae Clarke made for Universal, who used her to great advantage as the weary prostitute in "Waterloo Bridge" and the monster menaced bride in "Frankenstein" (there is even an "in joke" in "Night World" about "Frankenstein"). She had such a fresh and natural charm that hasn't dated and it has always puzzled me why she didn't go further than leads in Bs and even smaller films.
"Night World" is like a minor league "Grand Hotel" (it seemed every studio had one) - events taking place over 24 hours in a night club - "Happys". For a short film (only 58 minutes) this movie packs in a lot of plot. Boris Karloff, despite having an extremely long career, seemed to be given more diverse roles at the start of his career. He plays "Happy" MacDonald, the proprietor of "Happy's Club" which as the movie progresses is anything but. He isn't very "happy" himself - he is tough on his staff but is being made a fool of by his faithless wife (very sultry Dorothy Reiver) and Klauss (Russell Hopton), his right hand man.
Michael Rand (Lew Ayres) is a dissipated young millionaire who wanders drunkenly into the night club. His parents were involved in a sensational murder and he is slowly drinking himself to death to try to forget. His mother (Hedda Hopper) has been acquitted of the murder of his father, but Edith Blair (Dorothy Peterson) sees Michael at the club and gives him a motherly heart to heart talk about the way his mother really treated his father. Lew Ayres moment comes in a showdown with his mother, when he realises just how vicious her feelings are toward him and his father. On hand to administer sympathy and advice ("I'm trying to live long enough so I can see good liquor some day" she replies when Michael offers her a drink) is Mae Clarke (with a lovely fluffy perm) as Ruth Taylor, a young up and coming chorus girl ("You're in front of her - by about 10 years" says ungallant Ed Powell (George Raft) to another older chorus girl on why he prefers Ruth). Ed is too tough for Ruth and she proves her loyalty to Michael when a fight erupts. When the next day dawns, several people are dead and Ruth and Michael are on their way to a hopeful future.
Like Clarke, Lew Ayres, also under contract at Universal, made the most of whatever part he was given but the studio couldn't give him the boost that guaranteed him permanent stardom - it was up to MGM and it's Doctor Kildare series to do that. There was no doubt that George Raft would be a star - his part was only that of a thug but his impact was immediate and memorable. Another actor you remembered was Clarence Muse as the philosophizing doorman.
Some funny quotes - "I'm from Syracuse - Was your mother there at the time" - that was from a (to me) particularly racy scene played out in the Gentleman's toilet between a drunken patron and an obviously (it was from the early thirties) gay man who seemed determined to be picked up. "Will you do me a favour - No, why should I drop dead"!! - sweet talk on the dance floor. Busby Berkeley was the choreographer on the very cheeky "Who's Your Little Who-Zit" - his overhead shots of chorus cuties shows why he was out on his own.
Highly, Highly Recommended.
Yes, it's a cheap versions of GRAND HOTEL, but I think it works just fine. I'm going to disagree with some previous reviewers: I think Karloff is marvelous as the club owner, bringing a fierceness and bravado to it that others would lack. The rest of the cast is also good: Ayres, Marsh and Muse all register strongly. Hedda Hopper is indeed amazing as the bad mother. And George Raft stands out in his small part. A little of it is creaky and dated, but overall, I thought the camera-work was fluid and fine, the story moved fast and the characters were well-written. Nice little Busby Berkeley number near the top, too. Well worth checking out.
Poor Mae Clark was in loads of films yet is most known for getting a
grapefruit in the kisser from James Cagney in 'Public Enemy.' So it's
nice to see her in a part with a few more brains. She is just part of
an odd mixed-salad of a cast. Some, like Boris Karloff as an awkwardly
gangly night-club owner, and Bert Roach as a silly drunk, seem to be in
strange waters. Others, like Lew Ayers and George Raft, get roles
typical of their young careers. Though she has only one scene in this
very short film, Hedda Hopper steals the show as the world's worst
The only character to really warm to is The Doorman, Tim Washington (Clarence Muse). He is clearly in a horrible situation which those around pity at best and ignore at worst. So many African-American roles in the white films of the '30s are painful to watch, but Muse brings something special to this thankless part.
Cinematographer Merritt Gerstad shows an inventive eye both in the opening montage and in scenes that would otherwise be nothing to look at. And of course, we get brief Busby Berkeley numbers, which would never really work in a night club, but allowances must be made for Hollywood.
NIGHT WORLD is an interesting hour for film buffs (running time 58 minutes) It was made at Universal Studios in 1932 using cast members from their famed monster films. Of course, the headliner is Boris Karloff as Happy McDonald, the owner of a midtown Manhattan nightclub. He's a fast talking gangster who is not afraid to use his glib talk, his fists or his gun. In FRANKENSTEIN, Mae Clarke, was kinda drab, and not very pretty. Here she shows she's a spunky, funny and sexy actress. Bert Roach, of MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE turns up as an annoying drunk. The rest of the cast includes young Lew Ayres, Hedda Hopper, George Raft and Robert Emmet O'Connor. Busby Berkeley supervised the sparse dance numbers, and his trademark, naughty camera angles are here. I had a lot of fun with it.
You can certainly tell that "Night World" is a pre-code picture. It's
set in a speakeasy--just the sort of sordid locale that wouldn't have
been allowed after the new Production Code went into effect in
mid-1934. Of course, by then alcohol was legal and speakeasies were a
thing of the past anyways. The film is very much like a soap
opera--with a variety of folks and love affairs going on during the
course of the picture.
Several story lines are going on at the same time in this film and at then end, they all converge. One story is about the owners of the club, Happy (Boris Karloff) and Jill. However, Jill is cheating on her hubby and the way this story ends is pure dynamite. The main story involves a young man who's been drinking himself into oblivion (Lew Ayres). Why and his relationship with a girl who works in the club (Mae Clark) is fascinating. Finally, the doorman (Clarence Muse) has something going on with his sick wife. Again, all three stories converge at the end for a very slick and tense finale.
I rarely give short films like this such high scores. However, with this one, the writing was so good and the ending so enjoyable I highly recommend it. Thrilling and enjoyable throughout.
By the way, the dance numbers, though smaller in scale than his trademark choreography, were directed by Busby Berkeley.
Night World (1932)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Strange Pre-Code from Universal takes place at a nightclub during the Prohibition era where the women wear very little clothes and the alcohol is running free. Outside some Pre-Code dialogue and situations the story here is rather weak because it seems the director was only wanting to show the women and booze. The film runs a very fast 56-minutes but a few of the scenes go on a bit too long even with the short running time. Lew Ayres, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff and George Raft star. Watch for the joke aimed at James Whale's Frankenstein.
Happy's Club, a non speakeasy nightclub in Manhattan, is home to many
stories and characters. Owner Happy MacDonald is threatened by rival
bootleggers and decides to settle matters with them himself. Happy's
wife Jill is keeping on an affair with the nightclub's entertainment
director Klauss. Dancer Ruth Taylor is falling for young Michael Rand,
who's been drinking away at Happy's after the recent events of the
murder trial concerning his mother shooting his father. All the events
come together (sort of- see review) where people with grudges against
each our cast come to Happy's for a showdown.
The film has a great cast and almost all of them do a bang-up job, but the film falls flat because the various stories don't really gel together and a lot of characters have their roles wasted (Clarence Muse and George Raft especially). In a sense the only draw of the film is the Busby Berkeley choreographed dance sequence about 10 minutes in.
Rating 4 out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Happy" MacDonald (Boris Karloff) plays the owner of a night club and his wife "Mrs. Mac" (Dorothy Revier) works as a cashier at the same club. She has an affair with Klauss(Russell Hopton)the dance manager of the club's floor show. Ruth Taylor (Mae Clarke) is the club's leading dancer, and becomes friends with Michael Rand(Lew Ayres). A gangster tries to sell MacDonald bootleg liquor, but Karloff refuses. The bootlegger returns with a gunman who kills MacDonald(Karloff) and his wife,"Mrs. Mac". Karloff with his English accent does not sound like a gangster from New York and it was better he died quicky in this film along with his wife. This was a film with great actors and actresses and very poor writers and direction.
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