An altruistic department-store owner hires ex-convicts in order to give them a second chance at life. Unfortunately, one of the convicts he hires recruits two of his fellow ex-convicts in a plan to rob the store.
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Mr. Morris, the owner of a large metropolitan department store, gives jobs to paroled ex-convicts in an effort to help them reform and go straight. Among his 'employed-prison-graduates' are Helen Roberts and Joe Dennis, working as sales clerks. Joe is in love with Helen and asks her to marry him, but she is forbidden to marry as she is still on parole, but she says yes and they are married. In spite of their poverty-level life, their marriage is a happy one until Joe discovers she has lied about her past, in order to marry him. Disillusioned, he leaves, goes back to his old gang and plans to rob the department store. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
The gang of directors that came across to Hollywood from Germany fleeing nazi persecution were a very mixed bunch, but they all had one thing in common. They were all used to a higher degree of artistic licence and stylisation than was the given in tinsel town. Once in a while though, and especially in those early days, one of them would turn out something a little truer to the old form. Fritz Lang was among the most distinctive and also unfairly maligned of these refugee directors, but You and Me was one of a small number of American pictures which he produced as well as directed and thus was able to imbue it with his own particular brand of art deco comic book oddity.
Lang's late silent pictures tended to be very rhythmic, and You and Me is a good demonstration of where he was able to take that strand in the sound era. While certainly no typical musical, it has a number of songs and abstract interludes which lift us out of reality whilst still commenting on it, all illustrated with Lang's most baroque shot compositions, and scored by no less a personage than Kurt Weill (he wrote Mack the Knife, you know). "Operatic" is an overused term in cinema, but with its emphatic staging and numbers that dip in and out of regular dialogue, You and Me is certainly reminiscent of the opera at many points. The screenplay is by Virginia van Upp from a story by Norman Krasna, in which an unlikely tale of love among ex-convicts is surrounded by a deliberate distillation of gangster movie clichés, in rather blunt caricatures such as a mob boss known only as "big shot". All this itself feeds into the picture's surreal and, yes, operatic setting.
In this light, lead man George Raft can be viewed as simply another part of standard gangster movie furniture. You certainly wouldn't hire Raft for his acting abilities, since while his name would require an additional two letters to become "rafter", his lack of talent already renders him a wooden beam. It is also very much like Lang the producer to take on players who had strange and distinctive faces, which is why we get supporting acts from people like Warren Hymer and Jack Pennick, certainly worthy comic performers but appearing here mainly for effect. There are some great dramatic performances though. Sylvia Sidney is a likable leading lady, and her dewy-eyed adoration for Raft seems very real, as does her shrewdness in the final showdown. There are also smaller parts for the delightful Vera Gordon and the stern and steady Harry Carey, perhaps the most prestigious name on the cast list.
But Lang's style as a director was not really centred upon actors. It was however a functional one and not purely stylisation as is sometimes supposed. Lang's fascination with stark angles and geometric arrangements in his shot compositions are only really exaggerated examples of the visual tricks all competent directors use. In Raft and Sidney's proposal scene at the bus depot, he frames them with a set of lines converging at their head. It creates an optical illusion that makes us feel they should move towards each other. Lang forms unrecognisably bizarre patterns out of everyday objects, for example making rows of boxes in a storeroom look like some art deco wall panel, and while undoubtedly a bit of stylistic indulgence it also helps to highlight an important moment between two characters.
Many of Lang's little baroque touches, such as those shadowy close-ups of characters staring straight into the lens, would be frankly a bit of a distraction in a regular drama. But that is why they make sense here, in this stereotyped world of hammy gangsters and booming voices singing songs about stealing. It's a kind of overt form of cinema that allows the corniest of stories to be dressed up and brought to life, and surreal as it is it works surprisingly well as entertainment. However, genres were rigid and incorruptible things then, and you weren't supposed to merge gritty realism with musical flights of fancy. Besides, the semi-musical format would have been regarded as an awkward leftover from the early talkie days. As such, You and Me remains very much a one-off curio.
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