Carnie owner Buck Rankin marries local girl Helen and plans to go straight, but after a brawl ends up with a twenty-year sentence for manslaughter. When a pregnant Helen vows to wait for ... See full summary »
Carnie owner Buck Rankin marries local girl Helen and plans to go straight, but after a brawl ends up with a twenty-year sentence for manslaughter. When a pregnant Helen vows to wait for him Rankin forges a letter from the warden's office informing Helen that Rankin drowned while attempting to escape. Twenty years later Rankin is released from prison, changes his name to "Duke Sheldon", and eventually becomes a nightclub owner with ties to the mob. Helen has remarried - to a local judge - and daughter Sandra has become a reporter. When it's learned that notoriously camera-shy "Duke Sheldon" will be providing a mobster's alibi at a high-profile trial Sandra is sent to write an exposé. She immediately recognizes Rankin from a photo her mother kept, and father and daughter have a tearful reunion. Now Rankin must decide what to do: testify at the trial, revealing his identity and exposing Helen as an unintentional bigamist. Or refuse to testify, protecting Helen and Sandra but angering ... Written by
I probably never would have bothered with this were I not a big Jean Arthur fan; but even in her oeuvre this is rarely mentioned. That may be because "Whirlpool" isn't *quite* the quintessential Arthur movie (see "Easy Living," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "The Devil and Miss Jones," etc.--now!). Still, Jean's in full blossom here, and well on her way to her glory days. Either way, this is a remarkably entertaining little movie, told in a brisk, energetic, entertaining style that seems to have been practically unique in some ways to the Hollywood of the early to mid-30's. Jack Holt stars as an ex-con who is reunited by chance with his daughter (Arthur) after a 20-year stint in prison: He's high up in the underworld, she's a newspaper reporter. The plot machinations come fast and furious, and contrived though they may be, they are only so in the best way--the way Hollywood could pull this kind of thing off in the 30's. Good performances all the way around, but Holt--often looking very much like Brando's Don Corleone in "The Godfather"--and Arthur carry the show. (Another Godfather mention: Donald Cook, who plays Arthur's boyfriend Bob, looks quite a lot like Al Pacino!) Holt, in fact, really carries this picture, bringing to his Buck Rankin/Duke Sheldon a very sympathetic mix of no-nonsense tough guy and heart, and the relationship between him and Arthur is thoroughly convincing. I have to say that the opening credits had me worried: The "whirlpool" seems to be nothing more than water spinning down a sink! But this is mostly the exception: There's even one montage of father and daughter that's remarkably well-done, almost even poetic in its images and editing. Overall, I wouldn't call this a classic, but if you like Jean Arthur or the movies of the 30's in general, this is a better bet than you might have guessed.
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