Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
USA, 1938. Paramount Pictures. Story by Norman Krasna, Screenplay by Virginia Van Upp. Cinematography by Charles Lang. Produced by Fritz Lang. Music by Kurt Weill. Production Design by Hans Dreier, Ernst Fegte. Film Editing by Paul Weatherwax.
Early Hollywood project by the recently-arrived Fritz Lang shows him off at his corniest. George Raft and Sylvia Sidney play employees at a department store whose big-hearted owner (Harry Carey) has a strange hiring practice: he gives ex-cons the opportunity to go straight by giving them an honest living in his store. Raft has left his wicked ways behind him, and after completing parole decides to leave for California and seek out even better opportunities for a brighter future. He and Sidney finally admit their love for each other at the moment of departure, however, so he opts instead to stay and marry the lovely lady, but trouble is not far behind their fresh start. She has a secret that could destroy them completely, while he becomes despondent over the distance her secret puts between them, which then makes him vulnerable to the influence of nefarious old friends and older habits. Lang had an ability to create rich images with depth and shadowy precision unlike anyone of his time (particularly enjoyable in the department store scenes), but the cardboard characters and cheesy moralizing really keeps it at the bottom of the list among the classics he made. That said, the scene where Sidney does a demonstration on why crime doesn’t pay is totally worth the price of admission.