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Silky has always moved booze. In prohibition, he smuggled it from Canada, but now that it is legal, he produces his own brand. Seven years before, he sent Doc to prison because Doc was an honest man. Now that he is getting out, Silky wants an honest man as his general manager. When an English solicitor arrives to show that Silky is the new Earl of Gorley, Doc sees his chance to get Silky out of the way. But Silky takes Doc with him to England to see about selling his holdings and taking the money. While Doc knows that none of the property can be sold, he does not tell Silky. While Silky is shown all his duties and responsibilities, Doc is busy bankrupting his business in Chicago. Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
to have Robert Montgomery's gangster character, Silky, talk like a cross between Bugs Bunny and somebody on helium? Other than that one eyebrow raising observation though, I really liked this weird little film.
Silky was a bootlegger in prohibition days, and now he uses that knowledge to legitimately manufacture and sell his own liquor. His car is waiting the day Doc Ramsey (Edward Arnold), his former attorney, gets out of prison. Ramsey was framed for the crime he served seven years for, and he presumes that framing was done by Silky, his former client. Doc wants Silky to make a statement to the D.A. admitting guilt because the statute of limitations has long run out on the crime, and by admitting what was really done, Doc will be cleared and can regain membership to the bar. Silky says he knows nothing about it in a way that says he knows everything about it but intends to do nothing. Then he asks Doc to be general manager of his liquor business - he thinks Doc is an honest man which is just about as close as an admission of guilt as you are going to get out of Silky. Doc agrees to take the job.
Now "The Godfather" always said to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but for this to work you need to be smart enough to know the difference between the two, and Silky just does not seem that bright. Plus Silky is afraid of guns, even the sight of them. This makes you wonder why he is still alive and kicking as a gangster with his right hand man in jail all of these years.
Then something from left field appears. Silky's uncle has just died, he had no children, and Silky is the sole heir to the uncle's earldom in England. Doc sees his chance for some revenge. Silky isn't interested in this at first, but Doc tells him about all of the land and money that comes with the title, getting Silky to leave for England. Doc goes along, but gets Silky to sign power of attorney to him since Silky will be busy grabbing what he can in England. Honestly, how did Silky not win the Darwin award before the age of 12? Well the rest of the film just illustrates what we have known all along - that Silky has no redeeming qualities as a human being whatsoever. Yet as Earl he is expected to display "noblesse oblige". Edmund Gwenn is perfectly cast as Munsey, Silky's butler in England, who explains the term as "The earl's subjects never let him down, but likewise the earl is expected to never let his subjects down." It is quite a job for someone like Silky to shoehorn himself into such a role that he didn't want in the first place. Meanwhile, Doc is out using Silky's power of attorney to bankrupt Silky and his American businesses, knowing that because of taxes and the laws of the land, it would be years before Silky could get one farthing out of the estate.
It all boils down to a big showdown between Silky and Doc where Silky gets an education in business - which is where a man with money (Silky) meets a man with experience (Doc). The man with the experience gets the money, and the man with the money gets the experience. How will somebody with Silky's violent temper react when he realizes he has so stupidly misjudged somebody? Especially when he is afraid of guns? Well, let's just say that Munsey has succeeded in teaching Silky that he is more than he thinks he is and he shows this trait at two unexpected points in the film, the second point being the very end of the film.
Most people think that "Night Must Fall" was Robert Montgomery's best performance, but I have to say I think he acted exactly the way you'd think a serial killer would act straight down the line in that film. This one really shows that Montgomery can surprise you. You think he's going to react one way, because everything he's done has set you up to believe he is a certain kind of person, and then he does something that is a polar opposite of that expectation, yet it is entirely believable. Highly recommended.
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