(out of 5)
This Howard Hawks classic is still credited as one of the films that most inspired the gangster-film loving members of the French New Wave filmmakers. Paul Muni, the Hollywood chameleon of the 1930s, is a tough guy who is bumped up the ranks when his mob-boss is bumped off and he is pushed into a position of power. He loves a wisecracking gun moll and does his best to protect his hormonal sister (a blazingly good Ann Dvorak) from being ruined by the neighbourhood’s dirty life, but everything he touches turns to dirt and eventually his lack of morality comes to collect. Although full of the sharp moralizing that movies like The Public Enemy and Little Caesar had to profess in order to keep kids from idolizing the protagonists of these films too much, Hawks also includes a great level of style, panache and humour to tell this story; Muni’s Tony has no qualms about killing whomever gets in his way, but he also, quite humorously, tries to take in serious theatre in an effort to better himself. It has aged very well despite being a bit creaky in spots (early sound features always their downsides), and Muni does an excellent job with the characterization even though he’s not as much a natural in the role of the toughie as Edward G. Robinson or James Cagney were (which is why they got pigeon-holed while Muni went to have a rich career playing every other type of character). The moodier shots featuring deep shadows and sinister settings are beautiful to watch.
The Caddo Company
Produced by Howard Hawks, Howard Hughes
Music by Adolph Tandler
Production Design by Harry Oliver
Film Editing by Edward Curtiss