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 ...
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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
Jack Holt is great in this rather ornately written melodrama. He plays a man sentenced to prison for twenty years, whose pregnant wife refuses to divorce him. He sends her a letter that he has committed suicide in a way that leaves no corpse. We then fast forward twenty-five years. Jack is now a reclusive night-club owner and his daughter is Jean Arthur, a newspaperwoman who figures out who he is. In order to protect her mother, who has remarried, from public scandal, Holt has to disappear again.
The rest of the movie is about the complications surrounding the latter events and Jack Holt gives a better performance than I have ever seen him give, enormously underplayed by his usual standards. Jean Arthur has to contend with some lines that have not aged well, as does juvenile Donald Cook.
Nonetheless, throughout all this, the performances as as good as they can get under old hand Roy William Neill. Like many silent directors, Neill had retreated to the Bs -- although this is definitely an A picture from Columbia. Even so, Neill always worked well and carefully and this is a fine effort, the visuals perfect under a crack team of three cinematographers and half a dozen camera operators that included Joe August and Ben Kline.
In short, while the dialogue may occasionally make you roll your eyes, everything else about this movie will keep you intensely interested.
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