In the 1930s if you wanted am exciting drama that exposed a social ill, you thought of Warner Brothers. Columbia tried its hand at several, but usually they turned into routine programmers, clearly derivative and often too polite to show the grime. This movie, aimed at the loan sharks, makes a good effort at discussing the problem centering around the usual facile performance of Chester Morris, giving a little-guy performance that, as usual, slides between smart-alec humor and straightforward, believable emotion. Thomas Mitchell moves through his small but key role with his typical excellence. Leo Carillo is little short of great as the head of the loan sharking syndicate. Marc Lawrence also gets a terrifying few moments as he tries to kidnap a child.
For the first forty-five minutes I PROMISE TO PAY shifts uneasily between domestic comedy and office oppression. While some of this is, indeed, necessary to flesh out the story, it goes on too long. It may take the casual movie-goer an effort to sit still until the movie takes off; even then the good part lasts only twenty minutes until it moves back into workaday movie-making. Even so, that's far more than most.
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