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Hard to Handle
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Reviews & Ratings for
Hard to Handle More at IMDbPro »

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11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Still funny

Author: alanthebrown from United Kingdom
8 October 2007

This film holds up really well and can still raise a laugh.The mother is hilarious as she sways to and from Cagney as a prospective husband for her daughter according to his financial position at the time. The film breezes along with some predictability but the sparkling script and entertaining cast more than compensate. A great pity that the film is unavailable but I recorded it on Channel 4 in the UK some years ago and was pleased that I have now finally got round to watching it! Set during the Depression era, the opening marathon dance scenes sequences capture the desperation of the poverty-stricken at that time who would do almost anything to get ahead.The power of advertising and the gullibility of the public are admirably portrayed with a tongue-in-cheek humour that constantly appearing throughout the film. I laughed out loud several times which has not always been the case when I have been watching so-called comedies of recent times!

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11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Decent But Not The Best of Early Cagney

Author: David (Handlinghandel) from NY, NY
6 September 2006

James Cagney is better in the Roy del Ruth movies of this period. However, he was a dynamic, unstoppable force. He is believable here as a goodhearted con artist with a good heart.

He has some great scenes: In one, he runs down flight after flight of a winding staircase.

Mary Brian is the nominal leading lady. She's OK. But Ruth Donnelly is really Cagney's co-star here. Playing Brian's avaricious, canny mother, she is hilarious. Nobody can put one over on her. If anyone tries, she'll bounce right back. She'll change her tune. She'll double-cross and triple-cross to get what she wants for herself and her pretty daughter.

Donnelly was a reliable supporting performer in more movies than anyone could easily count. Rarely did she get such a role. She grabs it and runs with it. She and Cagney are fantastic together. It's a shame they were never teamed again.

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11 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Who Could Really Handle James Cagney?

Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
17 July 2006

Hard to Handle has James Cagney dusting off his role as con man that he debuted with in Blonde Crazy. That film was a bit more serious and had the virtue of Joan Blondell.

Here the Blondell role is split in two and Cagney deals with a mother/ daughter duo of Ruth Donnelly and Mary Brian. Like Blondell, Donnelly gives as good as she gets from Cagney.

Donnelly and Cagney were roughly the same age and Brian was about six years younger than Cagney. Ridiculous now when you think about Donnelly and Brian being mother and daughter. No film maker could get away with that casting now.

There's no real story to this film, Cagney moves from one con to another, skirting ever so close to illegality. Donnelly and Brian are alternately for and against him and not at the same time either at certain points.

It's a film that relies solely on the charm of Jimmy Cagney which is considerable. And it's the stuff Cagney was disputing with Jack Warner over.

His last con involved the marketing of grapefruit, from the man who made grapefruit tossing a national past time at breakfast/

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

James Cagney and Ruth Donnelly - Just a Terrific Team!!!

Author: kidboots from Australia
3 April 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ruth Donnelly had such a barbed way with a stinging comment, she found her niche playing secretaries and battle axe mothers whose dialogue was often made up of wise cracks and witty repartee. To "Blessed Event" and the overbearing aunt who forces her husband (Guy Kibbee) to find jobs for all her free loading and talentless relatives in "Footlight Parade", I would add the $$ signs mother in "Hard to Handle" as one of her most incisive performances. She was only a few years older than James Cagney but in this movie they make a terrific team - he as "Lefty" Merril a fast talking con man who has a million ideas - none of them on the level. He is in love with Ruth (sweet Mary Brian) whose mother (Donnelly) is determined that she marry rich, rich, rich!!! The busy banter between Cagney and Donnelly - he "I just have to find a place to stay", she "what's wrong with the park", he "until I find a proper location" she "where? Sing Sing??" - keeps the movie sparkling!!

His schemes always fail - a dodgy dance marathon where his partner runs off with all the money, a treasure hunt on the Sea Breeze pier where the winner is to find $5,000, only there is no prize but the thousands of seekers let loose wreck the pier (a hilarious scene)!! One of his schemes does take - a cold cream that doesn't absorb into the skin becomes Velvet Reducing Cream and Lefty becomes an instant millionaire!! Now Ruth is hesitant - she liked the old "go get 'im" Lefty and feels his head may be turned by his wealthy lifestyle and now wants to wait a few months before accepting his marriage proposal.

That is all the time needed for vampy college student beauty Marlene Reeves (gorgeous Claire Dodd who else) to try to get her red nailed fingers into him. If only Claire Dodd could have got her man just once - her smarts and cunning matched his and even though Ruth said to Lefty of New York "this is my town, not yours" Dodd's slinking made Brian look like a country bumpkin. I also couldn't understand those matching mother daughter outfits either - quite odd!!! But Miss Dodd was always destined to be the scintillating other woman and what an "other woman" she was.

Cagney didn't like being restricted to "dese, dem and dose" type roles - although even today they are elevated by his emotional honesty and sheer dynamism. He walked out of "Blessed Event" (I'm glad - I don't think Lee Tracy could be bettered) claiming he was doing too many movies for too little pay. "Hard to Handle" was his return movie and even though he played yet another scrapper - similar to his Bert in "Blonde Crazy" - at least he was getting more pay!!!

Highly Recommended!!

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Precode features the boundless energy of James Cagney

Author: calvinnme from United States
3 July 2011

This is a great little film that demonstrates everything that was fun about the Warner Brothers precodes. There are dance marathons, scams aplenty with Cagney's character at the center of them all - sometimes knowingly sometimes not, and that precode actress you'd just love to strangle - Claire Dodd.

Ruth (Mary Brian) is in love with Cagney's character, but Ruth's gold-digging mother Lil (Ruth Donelly) wants to make sure Ruth marries money. When Cagney is doing well, Lil's all for him as a future son-in-law. When he's not, she's after a photographer - " a 25000 dollar a year man" - as she describes him. The girls dress alike and Lil is always referring to herself and her daughter as "we", as in "we love you" or "we can't marry a pauper like that". Cagney plays an advertising promoter whose ideas sometimes work and sometimes don't, but always to comic effect. This film is not on DVD or VHS, so chances are you've never heard of it. Another interesting tidbit - Ruth Donelly and Mary Brian are actually only about ten years apart in age, yet play mother and daughter pretty effectively. Highly recommended for the silliness of it all.

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

"Never let a snake bite ya' twice."

Author: classicsoncall from United States
6 January 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Thanks to "Hard To Handle", I now know that the grapefruit diet dates back at least seventy five years! It's always cool to catch a movie that delivers in an unexpected way, and here, Jimmy Cagney is at his best as a fast talking con man, er..., entrepreneur as it were, capitalizing on every opportunity to turn a profit from the expectations of a gullible public. Funny, but it never seemed like he was trying to make a bundle, it just kind of worked out that way. What makes the picture so delightful is the equally versatile Ruth Donnelly, portraying Lefty Merrill's (Cagney) future, whenever we get around to it, mother-in-law. Lil Walters is one track minded to a fault; she'll marry off her daughter Ruth (Mary Brian) to the highest bidder at the drop of a dollar bill. She also has some of the film's snappiest dialog, and it's a toss up as to who's quicker on their feet, Ma Walters or Lefty. As a result, Lefty's girlfriend is almost left in the dust in most of her scenes, she just can't keep up the frenetic pace set by Cagney and Donnelly.

Say now, is it really possible that those Depression era dance marathons went as long as eight weeks or more?!!! That's how the picture opens while introducing the entire cast of principal characters. I thought it was a neat touch that the occasion had it's own marathon foot specialist. Kind of makes sense doesn't it?

Throughout the story, Cagney's character comes up with scheme after scheme, making lemonade out of every lemon thrown his way. The entire film is a hoot, the only problem being it's not commercially available, so you'll have to be lucky to catch it on a cable channel or source it through a private collector. It's worth it though to catch an early Cagney flick, even if you have to rewind the picture a number of times to understand all the dialog. Cagney's lines are so quick you can't catch them all the first time around!

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Frenzied, Frantic, and Funny!

Author: mark.waltz from United States
8 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A half hour segment of the end of a dance marathon (featuring two couples battling until the end) sets up the hilarity for this battle of lovers (the girl with a delightfully domineering mother, the boy with a hysterically cynical sense of life) where the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the marathon prize money leads to more complications and more cons thanks to Cagney's hilarious scheming. A fascinating crisp & fast-moving screenplay keeps the film going at a high speed, and Cagney delivers each line as if he was swallowing a grapefruit whole. Mary Brian is an appealing heroine, but it is Ruth Donnelly as her fast-talking mother who really steals the film from the moment she is introduced watching her daughter in the final moments of the marathon. A fascinating supporting cast features some wonderful character players, among them Allen Jenkins as the marathon announcer and Sterling Holloway ("Winnie the Pooh") as part of the second remaining couple in the marathon.

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"I'd marry Tarzan of the Apes for a year's rent"

Author: utgard14 from USA
21 July 2014

Early James Cagney movie about a broke hustler who wants to marry a girl but her shrewish mother is dead set on making sure her daughter marries into money. I feel like I'm missing something here. I love Cagney movies and this one has a good score and some positive reviews. Yet I wasn't impressed with it. Cagney's the whole show with a boundless energy that is enjoyable enough but the story is just weak. I didn't laugh once and this is supposed to be (at least partially) a comedy. I also see some praise for Ruth Donnelly but she really got on my nerves throughout the whole picture. It's really more of how the part is written than her acting. I'd still recommend it to Cagney fans but others might be better off finding something else to do for an hour.

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2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Fair Cagney

Author: Michael_Elliott from Louisville, KY
29 February 2008

Hard to Handle (1933)

** (out of 4)

James Cagney plays a hustler who fixes contests where the winners get a small amount of money while he makes it rich. Once again we get Cagney playing a fast talker and for the most part the film remains entertaining, although it's certainly lite all around. Mary Brian is great as the love interest and Ruth Donnelly steals the show as her loud mouth mother. There's a nice spoof of the grapefruit scene from The Public Enemy.

As of now this one isn't available on DVD so you'll have to keep your eyes on Turner Classic Movies.

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2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Top-notch simple programmer from Warner

Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
17 July 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie was never intended as a film that would change the world. No, instead it was like a lot of Warner Brother films--a formula piece with modest pretensions starring one of their "old reliable" actors. And, in this light, this is a very likable film--so good, I almost gave it a score of 8. The acting is very good and the direction provides a fast pace that holds your attention even though the plot itself is so very simple. As a result, the audiences got exactly what they paid for and left very happy.

Jimmy plays an idea man--sort of like a freelance promoter. While the summary on IMDb says he was a "con man" this is not the case--his ideas were honest at heart--he just knew how to bend the truth a little to sell an idea! When the film starts, there is a dance marathon occurring that Cagney has organized. It's a great success and Cagney's girl (Mary Brian) is about to win. However, Cagney's unscrupulous partner absconds with the money and he is nearly torn apart by the audience. Throughout the film, Cagney comes up with idea after idea and sells them to companies that manufacture face cream or sell land. The only idea that fails is a promotion to encourage the public to frequent an oceanside pier--you'll need to see how it backfires yourself! Throughout all these ups and downs and schemes, Mary's mother, played by Ruth Donnelly, is a real schemer herself. Her number one goal is getting her daughter married to the richest man possible--regardless of what they guy is like. When Cagney is down, she hates him and won't let Mary give him the time of day and when he is rich and successful, he's her "favorite future son-in-law". This is funny for a while, but she was so transparent and one-dimensional (and obvious "funny" character by design), that I soon found her to be the weakest character in the film--becoming a bit too predictable and monotonous.

But, whatever this character lacks or any other character for that matter, Cagney's intense energy more than makes up for it. And while the energetic and manic Cagney is all wrong for many films, it is perfect for this one (as well as movies like ONE, TWO, THREE). He single-handedly carries the film and is just a lot of fun to like. I really think his character works because while "full of blarney", he IS basically decent and honest! If he had been full of larceny, then his character would have been difficult, if not impossible to like--like Spencer Tracy was in The Show-Off (1934). And, in this case it was very easy to like him and want him to succeed.

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