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If not for TCM showing Warner Bros. 1934 movie Friends of Mr. Sweeney
around 1997, I wouldn't even know it existed. The movie cannot be
described as pre-Code because its release date is July 28, 1934, yet
the TCM broadcast version does not have the MPPDA logo on it and there
is no certificate number shown in the credits. Even stranger, when
Warner Bros. premiered this movie in New York City on July 31, 1934,
the venue was the Mayfair movie theater, not a Warner Bros. theater.
Friends of Mr. Sweeney is a star vehicle for Charles Ruggles, who plays
the role of Asaph Holliday, once a real go getter in college who has
withered away working as an editorial writer for The Balance, a dull
political magazine. Somehow, after meeting Rixey, an old college
friend, he changes as he gets involved with a crooked politician, the
operator of a gambling den and his secretary, Beulah Boyd, played by a
great looking Ann Dvorak.
There is one scene where Ms. Boyd, told that her dress was inappropriate attire for the office, takes it off in the office, shows she is wearing a slip, and puts on a more reserved outfit. A woman in a slip was a scene that you saw in a movie like Night Nurse, but not one that usually passed the censorious Joseph Breen, the foaming at the mouth anti-Semitic Production Code Administrator who enforced the stringent Code put into effect on July 1, 1934.
In some ways, Friends of Mr. Sweeney reminds me of another 1934 Warner Bros. movie, Hi, Nellie! Both are set in locales in or near Greenwich Village, both deal with journalists on the outs who improve their lots by going against crooked political types. The cynicism and slanted view of life in Friends of Mr. Sweeney peg the movie as pre-Code. It is too bad for Charles Ruggles that one of his best roles was in a movie that was given the bum's rush on its release, to avoid problems with the Production Code. By being released in the middle of the summer, considered a dead time for first run movies until the 1970s, Warner Bros. guaranteed this movie would vanish from sight fast.
If I hadn't taped this movie from the TCM broadcast about 10 years ago, I would not have a copy now, since I have not seen it listed once on the TCM broadcast schedule since then.
Mild-mannered Charlie Ruggles (Asaph "Ace" Holliday), editorial writer
for a New York weekly, loosens up a little after getting drunk with
sexy secretary Ann Dvorak (as Beulah Boyd). Rotund school chum Eugene
Palette (Wynn Rixey) arrives for a visit, then he and Mr. Ruggles
revisit wild youth as "Friends of Mr. Sweeney". The carousing brings
Ruggles head-to-head with a corrupt politician he's been ordered to
write up in a flattering article, by stuffy editor Berton Churchill (as
Franklyn P. Brumbaugh). Robert Barrat (as Alexis "Alex" Romanoff) is a
funny Russian friend. The cast appears to be having a great time, and
it's contagious. Watch for Ms. Dvorak to changes dresses in an early
scene, and model her lingerie.
****** Friends of Mr. Sweeney (7/27/34) Edward Ludwig ~ Charlie Ruggles, Ann Dvorak, Eugene Palette, Robert Barrat
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You really could walk right by him, look right past him, and never even
know he's there. He's Charlie Ruggles, the writer of a magazine who was
once a star athlete in college and now the milquetoast of Manhattan.
But the night out on the town with an old college chum (Eugene Palette)
turns him into a tiger. So does the presence of his pretty secretary
(Ann Dvorak) who isn't afraid of changing her rather risqué dress in
front of him with the office shades opened and a rather prim and proper
head secretary looking on in shock.
The tell-tale sign of his invisibility comes when he heads out to lunch and the counter man ignores him, Ruggles constantly repeating his order while other ruder customers keep getting the server's attention. When the counter man does finally notice him, Ruggles realizes its too late and just asks for his check. But with shady dealings going on behind the scenes of his editor's office, Ruggles may just end up being one to save the day.
The hulking Robert Barrat and the imperious Dorothy Tree play a Russian couple who interrupt Ruggles' planned evening alone with Dvorak, and who do you think Ruggles ends up in bed with? Berton Churchill plays the portly editor while Eugene Palette is seen briefly as Ruggles' pal. Thanks to Ruggles' light-hearted deadpan manner, this comedy is a step above the usual programmer level even though a lot of the plot entanglements end up being rather convoluted with just a wisp of clever dialog thrown in here and there.
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