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Czechoslovakian immigrant Karel Novak fulfills his dream of coming to America only to learn at Ellis Island the entrance fee has been raised from $50 to $200. Unable to pay, he is put on a ship going back to Holland, but jumps off, swimming to Manhattan, and losing his wallet on shore. He is elated at what he sees, the skyscrapers, the automobiles and the opulence. While stealing doughnuts from a lunch table for girls rehearsing for a show, he befriends 19-year-old chorus girl, Sylvia Dennis, who then lets him sleep on the roof of her apartment building. Her young brother, Frank, gets him a job selling newspapers and he gradually works up into driving a cab. Meanwhile, romance blossoms, and when authorities threaten to send Frank to a young boys' home until Sylvia gets married, Karel proposes and Sylvia accepts. But the spectre of his illegal status causes him to see a lawyer about becoming a citizen. He unknowingly goes to shyster Halsey J. Pander, who turns him in for the money. Written by
Arthur Hausner <email@example.com>
ROMANCE IN MANHATTAN (1935) is an immigrant story. Karel Novak (Francis Lederer) comes to America -- "The Land of Opportunity" -- with dreams of becoming a millionaire. He intends to work hard and has already learned to speak English. Right off the boat, he seems an ideal candidate for entry into the country. But the money he's saved is no longer enough to satisfy the immigration fee, which has risen from fifty to two hundred dollars. And so Karel must be sent back to Czechoslovakia, where he may never save enough money for a return trip to the States. Desperate, Karel escapes his deportation and tries to live the American Dream as an illegal alien in New York City.
Francis Lederer is supremely likable as Karel Novak, charming and optimistic, though naïve. Karel sees America as the land of his dreams, a place that could well be Heaven. He gets giddy with excitement just seeing the Manhattan skyline lit up at night. Unfortunately Karel enters an America that is mired in a Depression, and millionaires -- and jobs, for that matter -- are hard to come by.
Ginger Rogers plays Sylvia, a chorus girl who lives with her little brother, a paper boy when he's not in school (or vice versa). The two earn what they can and take care of each other in these tough times. Sylvia comes to Karel's aid when he's penniless and homeless and soon he's like a member of the family. Sylvia's brother gets Karel a job selling newspapers and Sylvia lets him sleep on the roof of their apartment building. After a while Karel gets a job driving a taxi and starts saving up money to square things with the immigration office. But when Sylvia loses her job, Karel dips into his savings to help out and soon he's back where he started.
In the meantime Karel and Sylvia fall in love. And really who can blame them? But Karel's status as an illegal immigrant is going to come back to haunt him and he knows it. And while Karel's struggling with that, Sylvia's trying to keep her brother from being taken away from her and placed in an orphan asylum.
ROMANCE IN MANHATTAN is a winner and I don't know how it's slipped under the radar. Francis Lederer and Ginger Rogers are a lovable pair and the film's got Depression-era drama around every corner. Our poor heroes are handed tough break after tough break, just trying to make a go of the "American Dream", but they take each blow on the chin, determined to get by somehow. Karel, the eternal optimist, faces adversity with a smile. It's a cute love story wrapped inside a social drama, and a pleasant watch the whole way through.
The question posed at the climax of the film is whether Karel Novak, being a hard-working and respectable young man, deserves any breaks from the immigration office. Sure, he's in the country illegally, but can something be worked out for the poor guy? It's an ethical problem that can be seen as black and white or as shades of gray. The film makes its decision on the matter and I won't spoil it.
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