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Reporter Joe Miller is sure that fisherman Eli Kirk smuggles illegal Chinese immigrants into the country, but can't obtain enough evidence to satisfy his editor. Chance plays into his hands in the lovely form of Kirk's daughter, Julie, whom he catches swimming in the nude and pumps for information. But she's fiercely loyal to her dad, and may be too attractive for Joe's own good. Racy pre-Code sexual situations.Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Ernest Torrence died only 4 days before the release of this movie, performing his own swan song in his death scene, unbeknownst to him. See more »
The news items about a woman giving birth in a water taxi, and the Empress of Britain docking that Joe reports over the telephone to the reporter at the news desk, had already appeared in print under his byline in the newspaper shown in the preceding sequence. See more »
[on the phone]
Hello, Thelma, this is Miller. No, I don't want the desk. I want to talk to Phelps.
See more »
Opening credits are shown as parts of a newspaper. See more »
I COVER THE WATERFRONT (United Artists, 1933), directed by James Cruze, based on "the unique and personal experiences of a newspaper reporter covering a Pacific waterfront" by Max Miller, is an interesting yet old-fashioned tale made plausible thanks to its interesting cast, namely Claudette Colbert, on an assignment away from her home studio of Paramount, in an against-type performance as a tough waterfront girl, with screen veteran Ernest Torrence as her rugged fisherman father. While Colbert's name heads the cast during the introductory title, it's Ben Lyon, in one of his finer screen roles at this point, whose name comes first during its second cast introduction (through newspaper clippings) and closing casting credits, and with good reason, too, because the plot revolves around his character suggested on Max Miller, while Torrence, who died before the film's release, being the most interesting of the two leads mainly because the way he acquires himself as both brutal and likable.
In a story set against the San Diego waterfront, H. Joseph Miller (Ben Lyon), an investigative reporter, takes up residence in the surrounding area while doing a series of "I Cover the Waterfront" articles for his newspaper. He is determined to get enough evidence on Eli Kirk (Ernest Torrence), whom he suspects is the leader of a smuggling racket. After meeting a girl named Julie (Claudette Colbert), who attracts his attention as well as a nosy busybody (Lillian Harmer) using a peril-scope, by taking her nightly ocean swim without anything on, Miller becomes interested in her, especially after learning she's Kirk's daughter. As gathering enough information about Kirk without her realizing his intentions, Miller comes close to making his catch at the risk of losing his bait.
An interesting mix of romance, comedy and drama with risqué dialog added in, I COVER THE WATERFRONT has its share of intense scenes, including Eli Kirk giving orders for his crew to take his smuggled Chinaman, with hands tied behind his back, to be covered up and feet heavily chained so to have him dumped into the ocean and dispose of so not to have the evidence found on board his ship by Coast Guard Randall (Wilfred Lucas) and reporter Miller; the drowned Chinaman fished out of the ocean by Old Chris (Harry Beresford) and Miller taking the body of the "chink" as evidence and placing it on the desk of John Phelps (Purnell B. Pratt), his city editor; Ortegus (Maurice Black), one of Kirk's crew members who, during an attempt to capture a large shark, falling into the ocean and getting a shark attack; and Miller's solving the riddle of "Jonah and the Whale" by discovering Kirk's smuggling method of rum and Chinese immigrants by having them sewn into the bellies of huge dead sharks, and much more. Talk about having an upset stomach.
For some amusements, there's Hobart Cavanaugh playing McCoy, Miller's sidekick reporter, with his several attempts to pick up some "nice girls" at Mother Morgan's (Claudia Coleman) Boarding House. While at the same establishment, there's Julie having a confrontation with one of the "ladies of the evening" who had taken her drunken father's money, and demanding for its return. There's even some dark humor set at a Santa Madre Torture Ship museum where Miller demonstrates some torture devises to Julie by having her trapped in one and helpless to his kisses.
Not quite as powerful as other waterfront stories: ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) or EDGE OF THE CITY (1957), for example, I COVER THE WATERFRONT shows how raw it could be. Aside from that, it does have its share of great scenes that build up suspense, thanks to its writing staff, leading players and some location scenery. While it's commendable for Colbert to try something different by playing stronger characters, her role as the tough waterfront girl, that have been better suited to the likes of a Jean Harlow or Carole Lombard for example, doesn't come off as hard as it should. Having Colbert as its leading lady is one of the reasons for viewing this one today.
Sad to say the prints that have been in circulation since the late 1980s are from a reissue containing different opening score and ten minutes clipped from its original 72 minutes. The reissue even eliminates Torrence's name from the cast altogether as well as the closing cast listing and exit music. While Bob Dorian, former host of American Movie Classics, claimed that AMC never cuts its movies, it did acquire this edited version during its March 1989 presentation. While it's hard to acquire a more concise print to the 1933 original copy these days, a close to complete version containing both the original "I Cover the Waterfront" theme and Torrence's name in the cast, would have to be processed by an old 1980s video Film Classics in clam shell distribution from Kartes Communications, otherwise film enthusiasts might have to wait and hope for a cable channel such as Turner Classic Movies to restore and present a more accurate print to the 1933 original with exit music. (****)
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