|Index||10 reviews in total|
Public Hero #1 starts out as a conventional prison yarn, then switches to sophisticated screwball comedy, then back to shoot 'em up melodrama. Perhaps it is the way the cast handles the crackling dialogue by J Walter Reuben and Wells Root that makes this mixed-genre film so entertaining. It never sinks into torpidity, thanks in part to the introduction of Jean Arthur and Lionel Barrymore well into the proceedings. Until then it is up to Chester Morris to hold our interest, which he does robustly, as an undercover federal agent posing as a convict to trap bad guy Joseph Calleia and his gang. Barrymore, however, steals the show as a pickled-to-the-gills alcoholic mob doctor - the great ham at his hammiest. Calleia contributes a nicely textured portrait of a hardened but still human criminal. All in all, an energetic if contrived gangster story spiked with laughs, fun plot twists and colorful characters. The final moment is interesting. It's as if Chester Morris was itching to wrap and go home that day, didn't like the way the fade out was written, so he recklessly improvised the last line and the last blocking bit and then the director gave in and allowed it. See for yourself!
Always enjoyed the great acting of Lionel Barrymore, (Dr. Josiah Glass) "Key Largo" along with Chester Morris,(Jeff Crane) "Ghost Ship". This film is about the gangster era in the Mid-West, namely: Chicago, Milwaukee, and Racine, Wisconsin. The boss of the mobsters is Joseph Calleia who is a brother to Jean Arthur "Peter Pan" 1950 on Broadway NYC, who has not seen her brother for many years. Jeff Crane is an FBI agent and winds up getting deeply involved with Jean Arthur who follows him every where he goes; Jeff has no idea that the gangster he is after is Jean Arthur's brother. There is a great supporting cast of Paul Kelly,(Special Agent, James Duff) who is Jeff Crane's boss and tries to caution him that getting involved with Jean Arthur is going to be big trouble. Paul Kelly in real life served a prison sentence in San Quentin, Calif., and made a big come back into the movie industry. This is truly a gem of a picture with a great look back at old automobiles, furniture and crazy looking clothes and plenty of hats on both men and women.
Is a fine Irish-American girl whose strangely Italian (?) brother
(named Sonny "Dinkie" Black) runs Detroit's Purple Gang. At least they
are both Catholic. Beginning inside a prison, the film introduces the
immortal Chester Morris as an undercover FBI agent who infiltrates the
gang and falls for Terry (played by Jean Arthur).
They have a slick prison break sequence and a fair amount of action, romantic comedy, and Hollywood's on-going campaign to make G-Men public heroes. John Dillinger had been killed a few months before "Public Hero #1" went into production, they change the names and the city but recreate the events of his apprehension outside a theater.
Forgotten actor Joseph Calleia plays the gang boss and brother. He has the most challenging role and does a fine job portraying a multi-dimensional character. Lionel Barrymore gets to overact nicely as a perpetually drunk mob doctor.
"Public Hero #1" is a surprisingly good film. It's mix of genres is as strange as it sounds but that works in its favor if you like to get away from standard formula stories. While it lacks overall unity, the disparate pieces are quite well done and are very entertaining inside their own little compartments.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
Public Hero #1 (1935)
*** (out of 4)
Extremely strange film from MGM starts off as a prison drama then moves to a screwball comedy and then goes back to gangster action. An undercover cop (Chester Morris) gets inside of a prison where he befriends a gangster (Joseph Calleia) and soon the two bust out but the gangster gets shot. Near death, the undercover cops goes out to find the gangster's drunken doctor (Lionel Barrymore) but due to a storm they are forced to stay at a hotel where the cop falls for a young woman (Jean Arthur) who turns out to be the gangster's sister. After hearing the news, the cop must try to find a way to bring the gangster down without hurting the sister. This film is pretty much all over the map but it's still a greatly entertaining film that works on ever level that it tries. The prison stuff early on is very entertaining as is the gangster stuff at the end. There's a big shootout at the end, which ranks among the best I've seen from any of these early gangster films. Normally screwball laughs wouldn't fit into a film like this but Barrymore does a terrific job in the comedy department as the drunken doctor. The highlight has to be the scene where he accidentally gets dressed in Arthur's robe due to how drunk he is. Barrymore's comic timing is terrific throughout the film. Arthur is also very strong in her role and delivers a very memorable character and performance. The real star is Morris who is simply wonderful all the way through. He has a lot of roles to play here from the tough guy trying to enter the gang to the cop trying to bring down the bad guy but he also does a great job in the romantic department with Arthur. Calleia, Paul Kelly, Lewis Stone and George E. Stone add nice support as well. It's also worth noting that the film seems partially influenced by the John Dillinger case who of course was murdered after watching MGM's Manhattan Melodrama the previous year and that includes the ending here, which has been slightly changed but still takes place outside a theater.
"Public Hero #1" is a relatively little known, continually entertaining gangster thriller that veers from prison mellerdrama to quirky romance to bullet-riddled shoot-out. Okay, so the plot has enough holes to drive a getaway car through -- like the unexpected "meet cute' encounter, during a flash flood, of a government agent disguised as a hold-up man with the sister of the crime czar he's tracking. But Chester Morris as the plucky, love-stricken fed, Jean Arthur who still loves her brother despite his homicidal tendencies, Lionel Barrymore as a boozy doctor and Joseph Calleia as the underworld kingpin who doesn't seem bright enough to rob a candy store are all fun to watch. And darn near believable. At no point, as the tale gallops through various genres, does it bog down. Wish the same could be said of quite a few more modern movies. Credit director J. Walter Ruben with doing a first-rate job on one of the final films he would helm prior to his premature death at the age of 43.
Interesting mash-up of genres from MGM: part prison/crime drama and
part romantic comedy. Two convicts (Chester Morris and Joseph Calleia)
escape from prison and one is wounded. The other goes for help and
comes back with a drunkard doctor (Lionel Barrymore) and a girl (Jean
Arthur), who turns out to be Calleia's sister! Starts out as a fairly
typical but enjoyable prison flick. Then there's a twist. I admit I
didn't see the twist coming but in retrospect I should have. Others
might peg it right away or see it in some plot descriptions. Anyway it
changes gears once Jean Arthur enters the picture and becomes a sort of
romcom for a little while, before returning to being a crime picture.
Terrific cast really makes it worth seeing. In addition to Morris, Arthur, Barrymore, and Calleia, there's Lewis Stone, Paul Kelly, Paul Hurst, and George E. Stone. Ladies will appreciate a shirtless Barrymore washing his moobs in a bath. Spectacularly violent shoot-out between cops and criminal gang. Calleia's fate was obviously inspired by how John Dillinger met his end. Eliminate the final scene between Morris and Arthur and I might have bumped this up to a 7. Hated that part. Remade in 1941 as The Getaway with Robert Sterling and Donna Reed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I debated watching this one on Turner Classics this morning, but after
fifteen minutes into the picture I was hooked. A pre-Boston Blackie
Chester Morris makes his mark in a dual role as an undercover detective
working a mob connection from inside prison. He's trying to learn the
whereabouts of Sonny Black's (Joseph Calleia) headquarters and the rest
of the Purple Gang. The reason for that name was never explained, so I
was left wondering about it the rest of the story.
You generally don't think of a gangster picture as having comedy relief elements, but Lionel Barrymore worked effectively here as the inebriated doctor of choice for the mobsters. Leaving his medical kit at a local gin mill as collateral, Doc Glass had about the finest nose for liquor in film history. On top of that, he always seemed to have a back up stash of the hard stuff in convenient locations just in case the glass he was working on got pinched.
Jean Arthur is effective as the good girl who falls for Jeff Crane (Morris), and of course the twist with her character is that she's convict Black's sister. She makes a continuous running play for Crane in the early going, even after she learns he broke out of prison with her brother. That sets up the film's emotional conflict for the finale, as Terry (Arthur) must resolve her feelings for the man who wants to bring her brother to justice.
The other performance of note in the picture is Paul Kelly's portrayal of Special Agent Duff, laying it out right on the line for Crane before he gets in too deep with Sonny Black's sister. Fortunately, that tug of war ends on a harmonious note at the closing bell, as Crane and Terry end the picture in a clinch, presumably on the way to the altar. On the way there though, you have a climactic shoot 'em up that leaves all the mobsters on the short end of staccato machine gun fire, courtesy of the era's penchant for closing out such stories with a healthy dose of law and order.
"Public Hero No. 1" is part of the FBI public relations program to make
G-men into heroes and replace the gangster as the box office attraction
(e.g., "G-Men" with Jimmy Cagney, "Bullets or Ballots" with Edward G.
Robinson). After all, in the early 30s, it's the gangster who got the
big box office bucks "Little Caesar", "Public Enemy", etc.
Chester Morris plays the undercover G-man who infiltrates the notorious Midwest Purple Gang by breaking the gang leader (Joseph Calleia) out of prison. Along the way he meets the mob doctor (Lionel Barrymore) and falls in love with the mobster's sister (Jean Arthur).
The first third of the film is a standard prison film with a pretty exciting prison break sequence, although it wouldn't make my top 10 list ("Cool Hand Luke", "Each Dawn I Die", "Papillion", "Midnight Express", "The Shawshank Redemption", "The Escapist", "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang", "Escape from New York", "Stalag 17", "The Great Escape"). No sooner do we get comfortable with the prison genre, the film dramatically changes tone and becomes a classic 30s screwball comedy with Jean Arthur exchanging verbal bullets with fast talking Chester Morris, and a very animated Lionel Barrymore overplaying his role as a drunken physician. When it returns to the crime drama with star crossed lovers, the film begins to wobble a bit, but eventually it moves to the happy ending expected in the mid 30s, with a Dillinger-esque shootout to cap it off.
It's a fast paced film, but there are far better crime films and screwball comedies from this era. Still, the performances are uniformly good, so if you're a fan of Morris, Callelia, Barrymore, George E. Stone, Paul Kelly, et al you'll enjoy the film
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I liked the first portion of this film--it was a bit clichéd but very
entertaining. You see a very brash crook (Chester Morris) having
difficulty adjusting to being locked up in prison. He can't help but be
noticed by everyone, as he leads prison riots and makes a nuisance of
himself. Eventually, he and his cell-mate (Joseph Calleia) manage to
escape and Calleia is badly injured in the process. So, it's up to
Morris to get a doctor--and unfortunately the only one who will treat
him without informing the police is a drunkard (Lionel Barrymore--in a
very vivid and atypical sort of role). Along the way, Morris just
happens to pick up a girl (Jean Arthur) who just happens to turn out to
be Calleia's sister! Little does she or Calleia know that Morris is
actually a government agent--sent to infiltrate the Purple Gang (of
which Calleia is the boss).
Up to this point, it's a highly improbable but entertaining film. However, making Arthur and Morris fall in love just seemed a bit too much--as did making Morris throw away the MONTHS and MONTHS of undercover work for her. This tended to slow down the film but despite this, it was still fun to watch. Not great but fun--in a mindless sort of way. Also, note the theater ending--obviously an attempt to cash in on the way they caught up with John Dillinger the previous year.
By the way, this is a very, very close remake of "The Getaway" (1941). If you've seen either, it probably isn't worth seeing the other. Also, it's pretty ironic that Chester Morris plays this undercover agent, as one of the gang members that he betrays (and gets killed at the end) is George E. Stone--the same guy who played Morris' best-friend and sidekick in the Boston Blackie film series!!
stars in this quirky yet unsuccessful comedy-drama about an undercover cop (Chester Morris) and the plot to capture a gang leader (Joseph Calleia) who happens to be Jean Arthur's brother. Lionel Barrymore is along for the ride as a drunken doctor (a nice comic turn). But it doesn't all come together; even Miss Arthur's beauty and fine comic timing can't save this one.
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