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'Manhattan Melodrama' may not have the stylistic finish to it to make it a
great message movie about contemporary 30s issues, but it does go a long way
towards that end, and is never less than engaging.
Clark Gable is the happy-go-lucky gangster Blackie who is being tried for murder by his boyhood best friend Jim, William Powell, a D.A. who has made it to governor of New York because of a murder done by Blackie, unbeknownst to Jim. On top of it all they both love the same woman, Myrna Loy.
Despite its melodramatic but never overwrought style 'Manhattan Melodrama' has sufficient weight and substance to make itself heard 70 years after the fact. It cuts no convenient corners in the description of the governor's sad plight of having to decide whether his friend should live or die, and it paints a wonderful and believable picture of Loy's character who does what she deems best. Powell delivers a multi-layered performance that has to count amongst his best, and Gable is irrepressible and delightfully amoral as the bad guy we're all rooting for.
Recommended, but please don't judge it by the first 20 minutes which are rather slow-moving, but still entertaining.
Well, unusual for me. Perhaps at the time, the circumstances, what have
you, it was not so unusual. But for me, watching Clark Gable portray a
happy-go-lucky double murderer, who garners tons of sympathy from the
audience; it was a first.
Manhattan Melodrama is a film of dubious and rather interesting morals. Who's the hero? Who's the villain? Childhood friends Jim and Blackie grow up very different men, Jim becomes DA of New York City, while Blackie runs a casino, and performs other unsavory activities. Eventually, their positions force them into conflict, but it's not your typical run-of-the-mill courtroom drama.
Blackie in most films would be a villain, he is after all a gangster and a murderer, amongst other activities. But here he's played by Clark Gable, about as charming an actor as ever lived, and the movie takes place in the 1930s, when gangster pictures like Little Caesar elevated these types of men into hero roles.
The picture makes a very blatant message against the heroic vision of gangsters (In a speech by Jim that feels as if the men who controlled the Production Code were standing off screen holding the cue cards for him). But I couldn't help feeling sympathy for the character, after the evil deeds he did. Meanwhile Jim, a hardworking individual who is uncorruptable, comes off as "cold" by the end of the picture. The way this movie sidesteps conventional roles is really interesting.
The lead woman in the picture, Eleanor, is rather interesting too. Watch how she jumps back and forth and between the men, and for what reasons.
I don't fully understand this movie, and it's not one of the most exciting films I've ever seen, but it's one of the most interesting ones I've seen in quite a while.
With a cast like this, how can you go wrong? And the film is a delight
beginning to end. Although all the players were great, special kudos to
William Powell, whose uncompromising morals cause him to lose almost
everything he has. His is a gut-wrenching performance, and the scene in
which he addresses the assembly with tears in his eyes to tell of his own
"weakness"--wow. It's rare to see Powell in a role with so much
and it is a marvelous performance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Manhattan Melodrama is a trivial pursuit game all in itself. Consider
the number of things it's known for. 1. The only teaming of Clark Gable
and William Powell. 2. The first teaming of William Powell and Myrna
Loy. 3. A popular song that didn't get popular from this film. 4. A
famous gangster being shot to death because he wanted to see this. 5.
William Powell's first film under the MGM banner. And I'm sure I might
think of a few more later on.
It's a very dated piece, but made enjoyable because of the skill of its three leads. Two kids, Mickey Rooney and Jimmy Butler who later become Clark Gable and William Powell, are left orphaned as a result of the famous General Slocum disaster in the first years of the 20th century. One works hard, studies hard, and becomes a successful lawyer and prosecutor. The other works hard becoming the kind of man the first one makes a living prosecuting.
Gable's the gambler and his girl friend is Myrna Loy. Gable is his usual charming self, but with a streak of toughness and nobody crosses him. He runs into Powell at the famous Dempsey-Firpo fight and later Powell runs into Loy. She gets a taste of respectability through him and she likes it. Gable would probably be sore about losing her to anyone, but Powell.
Powell rises to become governor of the state and Gable gets to the top of his profession, the death house at Sing Sing. This is where the film truly turns into melodrama. Powell is a person of exacting moral standards a bit too exacting for my taste. I can't see how today's audience could accept the course of action he pursues, for just being TEMPTED to commute Gable's sentence.
Manhattan Melodrama features a song sung by Shirley Ross, The Bad in Every Man. It's a familiar tune, but didn't do anything for the film. Composer Richard Rodgers had faith in his melody however and persuaded his partner Lorenz Hart to try another lyric. He did and Connee Boswell recorded it and made Blue Moon a big hit.
Of course the legend of the film is that John Dillinger wanted so much to see the film that he came out of hiding. As soon as it was over he got betrayed by one of the women accompanying him and the FBI gunned him down in the streets of Chicago. Manhattan Melodrama entered into American folklore after that.
I'm not sure today's audience would feel this film was worth even John Dillinger's life. If he wanted to see Gable, Powell, and Loy so badly, he should have waited later in the year for It Happened One Night or The Thin Man.
They didn't name this "Manhatten *Melodrama* for nothing - it's classic melodrama! If you can get past the first fifteen minutes or so, what saves this film is the three leads: William Powell, Clark Gable, and Myrna Loy. As a Myrna Loy/William Powell fan, I love the whole scene from their first meeting, as she flings herself into his taxi, and he thinks she is out to wreck his career by pretending he assaulted her! Clark Gable is great as the charming bad guy, too. Of course, in this story about unpunished crime vs. betraying a friend, nobody ever considers the third way, but then it wouldn't be a melodrama anymore, would it? Anyway, if you enjoy golden oldies or any of the three main actors, it's worth watching.
"Melodrama" is right.
Inside the first eight minutes we've got a ship disaster, a communist riot, and a pre-teen Mickey Rooney loses two sets of parents!
This isn't one to watch for the tight plotting or realism. Watch this for the spectacular cast. Powell is dapper and urbane. Gable is dangerous and charming. Loy knock's em dead. Mickey Rooney is a riot as the young Gable.
By the way - This is the movie John Dillinger was walking out of when he was gunned down by the police.
Also of note : You'll immediately say "Oh - it's that guy," when Nat Pendelton shows up as Spud. He played either a cop or crook in half the gangster pictures ever made.
Two boyhood friends (one played by a very young Mickey Rooney) grow up on
opposite sides of the law. Clark Gable becomes a criminal--William Powell
becomes governor. Myrna Loy loves both.
This plot is now screamingly familar but, back in 1934, this was original. In fact it won the Best Original Story Oscar for its year. This could have been a real howler but a great cast, tight script and wonderful direction really put it over. Well worth catching--especially for a powerful climatic scene between Powell and Gable. A classic of its type.
Clark Gable and William Powell are boyhood friends who end up on
opposite sides of the law in "Manhattan Melodrama," also starring Myrna
Loy. Loy is lovely here, as usual, but she doesn't really have much of
a role. The film focuses on Gable and Powell. In the first scenes of
the film, we see that they are orphaned and taken in by a man who has
lost his son in the same fire that killed the boys' friends and family.
When we see them in present day, Gable is running an illegal gambling joint, leaning on people for money they owe, and dating the Loy character. Powell is in politics. After Loy spends some time with Powell, she decides she'd rather be with him, and eventually they marry, and Powell moves from DA to governor. Gable becomes increasingly ruthless, though the two remain devoted friends.
There are some melodramatic sections in the film, particularly the beginning and the courtroom scene which contains a very dramatic speech delivered by Powell. The acting is marvelous. Gable is likable as a slick gangster who takes things in stride. His smile lights up the screen. He really had one of the great screen presences - looks, a great voice, and dripping with charm.
But the really interesting performance is given by Powell. He's not the witty, energetic Thin Man in this, but a very committed and serious, dignified person with a lot on his shoulders. He's totally believable, and he and Gable provide great contrast. Powell's scene at the end of the film is very touching.
Enjoy the great stars and the story, but don't look for laughs.
Excellent performances and direction combine with an exemplary script. Like all good fables, this story runs far deeper than its apparently simple premise. The same can be said of the fine acting from all players. The film explores the notion of nobility from highly contrasted perspectives and it offers plenty to discuss beyond the closing credits. Well worth catching!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a formulaic film that is very reminiscent of many of Clark
Gable's films of the era (particularly SAN FRANCISCO) as well as the
crime dramas that made Warner Brothers so popular in the 1930s--though
this film IS from MGM. If the film had different stars, such as Jimmy
Cagney or John Garfield, you would have just assumed it was a Warner
project because they made so many similar gangster films--ones where
the mobster is glib and carefree but ultimately doomed to pay for his
crimes. Now to me, being formulaic isn't a bad thing at all. I love
watching these type films and could do so again and again because they
are so entertaining. After all, it's hard NOT to enjoy a film starring
Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy--they were dynamite actors
and professionals. Sure, they often tended to play the same type of
character again and again, but you grew to love them and look forward
to this because the films were so consistently good and exciting. Plus,
as always, the writing, direction and production values were top-notch
for the period. This predictability and consistency make this a very,
very good film but also, unfortunately, keep it from getting a really
high score because there isn't a whole lot new about the film as well.
Gable plays a professional gambler and killer named, what else, "Blackie" (big surprise, huh). His childhood pal, William Powell, is the district attorney who eventually runs for governor. In SAN FRANCISCO this similar type role was played by Spencer Tracy--but the formula remained intact. Myrna Loy is the woman who loves them both. When Blackie kills a man as a favor to Powell (who NEVER would have approved--he was just too decent in the film), Powell is faced with the dilemma of prosecuting him! Sure it's predictable and almost impossible to believe, but this doesn't matter too much due to the film's quality throughout--that is up until the end. The film SHOULD have ended with Gable's final scene but instead has an ending that immediately follows it that just seems tacked on and unsatisfying. The movie should have ended about five minutes sooner.
The film is a must see for fans of Hollywood's Golden Age or fans of Gable or fans of gangster films. All others will still probably enjoy it, but might also find the plot elements a bit hard to believe.
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