... since he wrote, directed, and starred in this very primitive early sound crime drama. No Citizen Kane of course, but considering the limitations Mack had to work with - who exactly would make a good performer in sound films? nobody knew, the camera could not move, and the overreaching of diction coaches, this one had me entertained and not just because of its novelty.
Bobby Doyle (Robert Ames) has been wrongly convicted and sentenced to twenty years for killing a cop, odd in and of itself in 1929 since most people got the chair for that crime in those days. Good friend, Johnny the Hop (Clark Marshall), sends Bobby the ropes and knives he needs to escape from prison. So much for prison security. He escapes and beats it back to his old neighborhood where he plans to hook up with his girl and then leave town and try to clear his name too if he can. First, though, Bobby has to evade the cops led by Biff Myers (Willard Mack) who are determined to put him back behind bars. I'll let you watch and find out how it all turns out.
Willard Mack had a pretty good reputation as a writer before and after this film, and he does a good job here too of penning a story that, although very easy to figure out, has some pretty good twists and turns. However, like most early sound directors and writers, he just can't overcome those over-aggressive diction coaches. They've got Bobby's girl Beebe (Sylvia Field) and Bobby's sister Mary (Duane Thompson) speaking like they're British nobility all the while slinging the inner city gun moll lingo with a heavy side order of ain'ts. It really is quite ridiculous. As a result of these strange performances, Ms. Thompson's career is pretty much over after 1929 and Sylvia Field has to wait until television comes along to restart her career. You might remember her as Mrs. Wilson on "Dennis The Menace".
However, the rest of the cast is quite good. Honorable mention has to go to Alice Moe as Martha. She puts out the dense aura and sage one-liners that become the stock and trade of Zasu Pitts in the 30's and beyond. All of the male players ring true including Clark Marshall as Johnny, the cocaine addicted mastermind of Bobby's escape, and best of all John Miljan as the slimy gangleader whose tongue hangs down to his knees whenever he's around Beebe - if she wasn't so busy over emoting as the virginal true blue girlfriend to Bobby you'd think she'd have to notice this! As for atmosphere, Mack really understood the power of sound. There is a great police interrogation scene - maybe the first one ever filmed with sound - in which the cops turn out the lights and with just the power of dialogue and shadows on the wall come up with something that will take Warner Brothers another two years to get right.
I'd highly recommend this one. For those of you not used to early sound film it has a couple of very talky static stretches in it in which nothing much meaningful is really said or done, but overall it's a worthwhile experience.
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