"Happy" MacDonald and his unfaithful wife own a Prohibition era night club. On this eventful night, he is threatened by bootleggers, and the club's star dancer falls in love with a young socialite who drinks to forget a personal tragedy, among other incidents.Written by
I had never seen this film and Lew Ayres was a friend of mine years ago and came to lecture to my film class at the University of Arizona ca. 1975. He was a deeply religious man, a conscientious objector during World War II and ambulance driver and former husband of Ginger Rogers and Lola Lane of the fabulous Lane Sisters. He said that the breakup of the marriage with Ginger was his fault because she got more famous than he and he couldn't deal with it. He was a thoughtful, intelligent and decent guy and very gentle in real life but he caught fire on screen or in live performance. When he WAS acting, he was all show business and you needed to get out of the way of him because of the intensity of what he was doing. Then when he was done and the public spotlight would go away, he'd return to being the great guy he was. I liked him enormously and he had just finished directing his religious film Altars of the World about his trips all over the world to study various religions and their belief in a guiding spirit. I'm not a religious guy but he believed in treating everyone with the spirit that he had found and that feeling just made him nice to be around.
This movie features also a winning performance from Mae Clarke who shows that she can actually dance pretty well. She was a natural actress, not a raving beauty, but someone who radiated attractiveness from deep within and it spilled out onto the screen. She should have been much more famous. Pity she's known for getting that grapefruit shoved in her face by Cagney because here she delivers a solid and winning performance. George Raft appears briefly and does that gangster coin flipping stuff that he would do so much in his forties movies. Clarence Muse is absolutely wonderful as the black doorman of Happy's Club and projects a terrific emotional range, conveying a good bit of what it must have really been like to be black back then in a white man's world..
The screenplay is solid and there's a Busby Berkeley dance number. It's small scale and lacks the wonder of his work at Warner Brothers or the amazing color kaleidoscope he did at Fox in The Gang's All Here in 1943--don't miss that one!! But it's still a fun interlude to see Busby in his early period a little bit post Whoopee and Palmy Days. There's also Boris Karloff, fresh from his triumph as the Frankenstein monster the year before and one of the characters actually makes an inside joke in the film, referring to Frankenstein. Karloff's British accent doesn't quite fit well with the thug part he has to play but he's still pretty effective and Hedda Hopper, later to be a feared gossip columnist who wrote Under Hedda's Hat in syndication everywhere, does a terrific turn as Lew Ayres' murderous mother.
All in all it is a night club Grand Hotel with the various problems of many characters, good and bad people, interweaving nicely and very well written. It's a short film so you needn't invest much time but it moves along swiftly and ends with a running gag about Schenectady, New York. I give it seven stars and especially enjoyed seeing Lew Ayres who, if one takes the drinking part away in the film, was essentially playing the man he really was, a highly decent guy who had an up and down career but a career that spanned more than 65 years in the movies and tv and near the end of his life he was playing the older crush of a young Mary Tyler Moore on her tv show and being convincing about it. The man was really special from top to bottom.
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