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Una Merkel steals a show that is short on details and motivation
Richard Dix as wealthy John Day is celebrating his birthday with his wife Dorothy (Madge Evans) and their friends. But there is trouble brewing. In the opening scene the milkman (Stuart Erwin as Jerry) has been instructed not to give the Days any more milk until the bill is paid up, which Dorothy makes excuses for, yet she still manages to keep a recently purchased expensive evening gown. The cops break up the celebration and arrest John for embezzlement, which he minimizes as just some kind of misunderstanding. It is - other people don't seem to understand that John has taken to "borrowing" money that is not his to satisfy his wife's expensive tastes.
The Days soon find out who their friends are as John doesn't even have the money to make bail. The only person who will help them is Hollins (Conway Tearle). However, his motivation is to keep John in jail so he can have his way with John's beautiful wife. He pays off a crooked lawyer to do just a bad enough job that John gets two years in the county jail when normally he would have gotten probation.
Dorothy talks the talk of the loyal wife, but she likes Hollins' gifts. Two years gives Hollins just enough time for Dorothy to forget John, have his way with her for awhile, and then discard her. However, Hollins' plot is not foolproof. You see, he has a recently discarded mistress, she does not like being replaced by Dorothy, plus she apparently has access to firearms. I'll let you watch and see how this all works out.
This love quadrangle - John, Dorothy, Hollins, the discarded mistress - and the story behind somebody in jail who is loyal to John beyond reason (Raymond Hatton as Hart) would take at least 90 minutes to flesh out halfway properly, but this was probably a second bill film so 68 minutes is all we are allowed. As a result, I felt like I had really been rushed through a story I didn't truly understand.
Now for the bright side - Una Merkel as Mamie, the Days' loyal servant, who somehow manages to keep everything going for the Days' two very small children, nursing them in sickness, and even bringing them to the yard in front of the jail so John can see his children. She is much more of a mom to these kids than their actual mother. Then there is the sweet romance that brews between Mamie and Jerry the milkman. You know how Jerry feels upfront, but you are not sure just how serious Mamie is until the very end. In this film that is a sea of characters who have bad intentions or at least bad actions, Mamie and Jerry are a breath of fresh air and actually take up more screen time than Richard Dix gets.
I'd recommend it, but just remember this little precode was probably never intended to be an A list film.
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