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The Broadway citizen Aloysius 'Butch' Grogan is known far and wide to be involved with criminal activities. Butch is motivated to pursue a life of crime in order to provide the lovely widow Susie O'Neill with the funds to support herself and her little son. Butch is the lookout for a gang of safe crackers. One of them is forced to bring his squalling baby son along with him on the job. Butch is obliged to mind the baby while the safe is being knocked over. Written by
Damon Runyon's short story 'Butch Minds the Baby' is probably the funniest thing Runyon ever wrote; it's certainly one of his most widely anthologised stories. I have a fairly low threshold for Runyon's world: I find most of his fictional characters extremely contrived and implausible, and I strongly dislike his penchant for lower-class characters who speak without contractions ... such as saying 'I am not' instead of "I'm not" or "I ain't". Most working-class people I've encountered (in anglophone cultures, at least) use contractions constantly.
I had keen hopes that this movie would be as funny as the story it was based on, but (as Runyon might say) such is not the case. Some of the changes in this film version were completely unnecessary, and weaken the original material. The film also suffers from the casting in the central role of Broderick Crawford, whose comedic talents are nil.
Susie O'Neill (the very beautiful and sexy Virginia Bruce) is a widow with an infant son. As she must work to support herself and baby Michael, she frequently entrusts the child to big-hearted Aloysius Grogan, better known as Butch: a former safecracker who swears he has gone straight ... but he stays in touch with his crooked buddies.
In fact, now Butch's buddies want to enlist him in a payroll heist. This is a nitro job, and Butch is the only one who can handle the nitroglycerin properly. The problem is, the money will be in the safe for one night only ... and this is the night that Butch minds Susie's baby. Butch can't get another sitter on short notice ... so, off he goes to explode the safe, with a tube of nitroglycerin in one hand and the baby under his arm.
Complications ensue. Unfortunately, they aren't nearly as funny as in the original story. Among other things, the baby starts playing with the nitro ... but this is easy to do on the printed page. On the screen, the infant actor fails to perform on cue ... and to see an actual baby handling explosives -- even fake explosives from the Props department -- is much less hilarious than reading this about a fictional baby.
Dick Foran is the handsome cop who takes an interest in Susie and in Butch's extracurricular activities. Of course, Butch has a clever alibi: any man who carries a live baby in his coat can't possibly be out cracking safes, right? This being a Damon Runyon movie, we get the usual rogues' gallery of overly-contrived mugs and thugs. The funniest of these is Shemp Howard as Squinty, who is so myopic he can't recognise anyone until they're right in front of him. Albert S Rogell offers his usual leaden direction. This one barely rates 3 out of 10. Sorry, Damon...
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