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Bat Morgan is nearly shanghaied on his way to the gold fields of California. Instead he kills Shanghai Duck and becomes a hero in San Francisco's Barbary Coast. He winds up the rich owner of a saloon and gambling hall and is nearly lynched for a murder he didn't commit.Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
The playbill for the opera house gives its name as "McGuire's Opera House," unlike its actual historical name, "Maguire's Opera House." The correct name is given in the newspaper story detailing the opening night incident. See more »
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Gwine to Rune All Night (De Camptown Races)
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This film starts out rather implausibly. Sailor Bat Morgan (James Cagney) wanders into a Barbary Coast saloon and almost gets shanghaied by a trio dedicated to that business. He does manage to escape and is helped by a kindly Jewish tailor (George E. Stone as Sully Green). What's rather implausible is that Sully basically has to teach a sailor that has docked in the port of San Francisco what shanghaiing is and that the Barbary Coast is dangerous. Really? A seasoned sailor docking in San Francisco has never heard of the Barbary Coast or shanghaiing or why it is profitable for criminals? You'd think Bat Morgan was a common tourist from the Midwest with a defective GPS. What happens next was a little off-putting for a Cagney fan like myself. Naturally, Cagney's character decides to go back to the bar and teach those three thugs a lesson. How he did it left a bad taste in my mouth. Bat shanghais the shanghai-er as he is getting ready to take yet another unconscious victim to a ship. But he also shanghais the poor unconscious slob that was just a victim like he had been a couple of hours ago! Now I'm prepared to see Cagney's character rough up and victimize fellow bad guys in a film, but he usually shied away from making victims of innocent bystanders.
At this point the film makes a distinctive turn from where it's been going the first 15 or 20 minutes and becomes less surprising and more of a conventional action picture. Bat Morgan - who never goes back to his ship - begins to make his fortune on the Barbary Coast by more conventional methods. At first he works for Barbary Coast saloon proprietor Paul Morra (Ricardo Cortez), then he works his way up by enlarging the take of corrupt San Francisco officials, and uses his part of the pot to build an upscale establishment on the Barbary Coast himself.
Meanwhile, the beautiful owner of a newspaper dedicated to wiping out corruption (Margaret Lindsay as Jean) enlists an editor to help her in her goal of cleaning up The Coast and outing the corrupt officials that protect it. Donald Woods plays the honest editor she hired who never has a chance with Jean once Cagney's Bat Morgan gets a look at her and starts batting his baby blues. So here you have a corrupt guy and a beautiful classy girl dedicated to wiping out corruption falling in love. Rather predictable complications ensue.
High points of this production are, most obviously James Cagney, George E. Stone in an endearing role as Cagney's mild mannered and loyal friend the tailor, and Fred Kohler in a minor role as the aptly named Shanghai Duck who looks like he hasn't bathed in a month of Sundays. Ricardo Cortez gives an overly restrained performance as Barbary Coast big shot Paul Morra, and Lili Damata is wasted here as his wife. Unexpected is the viewpoint that a mob on horseback is lawlessness, but a mob sitting down in a large room is an acceptable form of government, and that common criminals going to the opera is an unspeakable breach of etiquette. Watch the film to see what I'm talking about.
This one is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, largely made so because studios had to turn to period pieces like this one immediately after the production code took effect in order to blunt the interference from the censors without really knowing what to do with the material.
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