Crooked cabbies, hot Irish tempers, and bad situations with good intentions. Roy Del Ruth’s 1932 PreCode nugget has a variety sampling of yummy delights.
As if struggling to make ends meet as a taxi driver in the Depression isn’t bad enough, mafia styling competition just made it worse. Our story begins with Guy Kibbee as ole man Pop Riley who has comfortably carved out a little corner for his meager cab business. But his crooked competition “Consolidated” would feel more comfortable taking it all for themselves. In their nasty ways, David Landau as Buck Gerard arranges for his man in a truck (brawn over brains fave character actor Nat Pendleton) to crash in “accidentally” to said cabbie and thereby eliminate his Consolidated competition. Pops Riley is justifiably incensed, pulls out a gun and shoot down the man who just destroyed his means to earn a living.
Pop’s daughter is the beautiful, doe-eyed Loretta Young as Sue. Her approach to resolve these troubled matters is a non-violent, peaceful one. Exactly opposite in ideology is young cabbie James Cagney as Mike Nolan. Despite their differences, opposites soon attract and after Pop Riley dies in a prison hospital as he serves his time for his revengeful crime, Sue and Mike get married. George E. Stone as Skeets and Leila Bennett as Ruby serve as the comical sidekicks and wingmen for the two lovebirds.
Nolan’s temper is tested more than once as we see him lose his patience with a clueless man on the elevator who turns out to be the marriage license clerk and later on their wedding night at a dance club when Buck Gerard himself pokes the bear by antagonizing Nolan and lands up stabbing the wrong Nolan boy. Danny Nolan doesn’t make it on the operating table. Now Mike is a man on a mission, for fateful and deadly revenge. But at what cost? Is his marriage worth sacrificing in order to balance the scales of justice on his own terms? To what length will Sue go to protect her man from serving inevitable prison time for murder, even as justified as it may be, including paying for Buck’s escape? I won’t spoil the real conclusion but rest assured it all balances out nicely in the end.
This film is less about public transportation and more about dealing within our constraints and challenges in a troubled world, while seeking justice. A balancing act of life, especially for a feisty Irish life. The character studies are splendid.
Funny duo Stone and Bennett as Skeet and Ruby are a quirky pair that provide witty breaks throughout. Dry cynicism with a nasal dead-pan Bennett especially, as she’s given generous latitude of lines to ramble on nonsensically, yet it delivers. Ruby to Skeet: “C’mon I feel like being bored and you can do the job better than anybody I know.”
Sweet Loretta Young is a mere nineteen years old here and it’s tough to look away. Her beauty is stunning and her acting skills show evidence of her long career to come.
Cagney’s early career portrayal shows off his first on-screen dancing, with a fox trot dance-off contest against George Raft! It’s also his film appearance with the “you dirty rat” claim to fame. Only it’s not. Well, not quite. To be specific, James Cagney boldly threatens, “Come out and take it you dirty, yellow-bellied rat or I’ll give it to you through the door!” As for his performance itself, Cagney was already showing us the variety, depth and brilliance of his talents. From speaking in convincing yiddish in an opening scene to his moving scene of heart-break of grieving his brother’s loss, this little film has a lot to offer.
*This was my contribution to CMBA’s PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES Blogathon. Only members of the Classic Movie Blog Association may participate and I’m proud to belong to this fun group of talented writers.