A highly respected Irish cop is pleased when his son follows him onto the force. Unfortunately, the son is more interested in rewards than in upholding the law. When he shoots a child ...
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A highly respected Irish cop is pleased when his son follows him onto the force. Unfortunately, the son is more interested in rewards than in upholding the law. When he shoots a child caught stealing, the others frame him and he is sent to prison where his attitude becomes even worse than before. Written by
Ulf Kjell Gür
This is a good movie. It's not one of the great all-time movies; it's not even one of the great all-time crime dramas. But it's a good movie. The current IMDb average of 5.9 for this movie does it a gross injustice. It deserves at least at 6.8, and maybe as high as 7.1.
The pacing of the story is good; it never drags. The camera work is good, and the atmosphere in the night scenes is good. It's a visually pleasing film.
The acting is good. Wallace Beery, who can ham it up with the best of them, could have overdone the sentimental Irish cop routine, but he restrains himself to present a well-balanced and credible character, no mere cartoon version of a New York cop. In fact, it is one of the better performances I've seen Beery give. All the other actors, in roles either major or minor, are good in their roles as well. Laraine Day shines, and Alan Curtis is very good as well. Marc Lawrence gets a larger-than-normal supporting part and does very well with it. Mary Field, who often plays domestics with only trivial speaking lines, gets a meatier role here (though it lasts only one scene), and shows she can act.
If the film has any major fault, it lies in the script. Alan Curtis does a good job (especially in the final scenes) with what he is given by the screenplay, but the origin of the chip on his character's shoulder is never really explained, and there aren't many nuances in his hard-edged character throughout most of the film. This makes it hard to sympathize with him in any way, or even to understand what Laraine Day ever saw in him. We feel more sympathy even for Marc Lawrence's gangster leader than for Curtis's angry young cop. Had Curtis's character been better fleshed out, this would have been not merely a good movie but a very good one.
To its credit, the film makes no pretensions of greatness; it never gives the impression that it is telling a more important story than it is. Its story is told in a low-key manner. Perhaps for that reason, it doesn't stand out among the movies of 1939 with their grand themes and larger-than life characters (Hunchback or Notre Dame, Wuthering Heights, Gone with the Wind, Gunga Din, and so on).
I get the impression that this film is given a lower ranking than it deserves because fans of Josef von Sternberg were expecting something else from it. They would have liked it to be more like his earlier, highly stylized films which they consider classic. It's as if the film is being punished, not for being a bad film, but for being not Sternbergish enough. A similar thing happens with Alfred Hitchock's film Jamaica Inn, which is generally ranked very low despite the fact that it's quite a good film (though properly seen only in the restored Cohen edition); it is belittled because, stylistically, it's not Hitchcockish enough. Yet if one watches Jamaica Inn without prior expectations of what a Hitchcock film should be like -- or better still, if one watches it without realizing that it was directed by Hitchcock -- one will almost certainly enjoy it. The same is true, I submit, for Sergeant Madden.
Again, this is not a great film -- the director could have insisted on a better script, or rewritten parts himself. But it's a solid film. It was not deserving of any Academy Awards, but it is deserving of far better than a 5.9.
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