Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1934. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Oliver H.P. Garrett, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on a story by Arthur Caesar. Cinematography by James Wong Howe. Produced by David O. Selznick. Music by William Axt. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by Dolly Tree. Film Editing by Ben Lewis. Academy Awards 1934.
This was the first time Myrna Loy and William Powell were ever teamed up on film; their sparkling chemistry led director W.S. Van Dyke to cast them, against Louis B. Mayer’s objections, in his upcoming film version of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. It’s also the only time Powell ever made a movie with MGM’s most popular male star Clark Gable, but what really keeps it up there in movie history is its connection to real crime: this was the film that the infamous underworld gangster John Dillinger was watching before he left the movie theatre and ran straight into an FBI ambush. Gable and Powell play boyhood pals who survive the trauma of their adolescence together (Gable’s youthful counterpart is played by a very young and scrappy Mickey Rooney) only to grow into two completely different people, with Gable taking the low road of gambling and “racketeering” (whatever that is), while Powell follows a successful career in law that leads to his governorship. Loy is the beautiful woman who loves one and then marries the other, and things get tough when Gable comes up on a murder rap and Powell is forced to hang a death sentence over his best friend’s head. It’s not an original story, but this is probably the best version of it.