This month, Clark Gable is doin’ what he does best as the fast talkin’ rogue, Myrna Loy is his lady and William Powell is his conscience in Manhattan Melodrama.
Gable is Blackie Gallagher, a gambling, gun-slinging gangster, who remains best friends with his childhood pal, Jim Wade (Powell), an ambitious lawyer. Blackie’s girl, Eleanor (Loy) grows tired of the shady side of life and soon falls in love with Jim and marries him. Jim is promoted to district attorney and starts a campaign to become New York’s next governor. When a blackmailer threatens Jim’s campaign, Blackie decides to handle the situation himself and kills the man. On trial, Jim has no choice but to prosecute Blackie and he is sentenced to death. The conviction helps Jim win the election, but on the day of Blackie’s execution, Eleanor pleads with Jim to pardon Blackie and reveals to him that Blackie killed the man to protect Jim. Jim rushes to the prison to commune Blackie’s sentence, but Blackie refuses to let Jim waver on his original decision. After Blackie is put to death, Jim resigns as governor and makes up with Eleanor at the fade out.
The cast of this film is wonderful–Clark and Myrna have great chemistry as always, and of course Myrna and Bill can’t be beat.The plot has been done 100 times before–two boys grow up as friends, one turns bad the other good yet they remain friends. Clark would in fact do it again just two years later when he played another bad Blackie in San Francisco. Spencer Tracy is the good childhood friend (a priest, no less) in that one.
Myrna gets to slink around in gorgeous gowns and also be the prim and proper political wife–not to mention be volleyed between Clark and Bill–not bad for a day’s work.
Clark was tired of the bad gangster types at this point, but at least this one has some heart and actual characterization. He liked the cast and crew of the picture and he was only needed on set for 12 days total–not a bad work assignment.
Clark of course sacrifices himself on behalf of his good friend and guilt eats Bill alive. It’s a movie where everyone does the right thing in the end, but hey at least we were entertained in the meantime.
“If I can’t live the way I want, at least let me die when I want.”–Poor Clark gets the death chamber. And hey, apparently in 1934 you go from sentencing to death in a matter of weeks. Don’t even think he got his steak dinner!
Clark is quite good in this film–portraying Blackie’s rough and tumble qualities but letting his heart eek out here and there too. Bill is always good at being the straight and arrow.
This film is an interesting footnote in history for a couple of reasons:
One, this film sparks the beginning of a truly legendary film pairing–Myrna Loy and William Powell. They had never even met before until she opens the door of a car and falls into his lap. Their witty banter and easy chemistry prompted director Van Dyke to decide they were right for his next picture, The Thin Man. And thus started a beautiful teaming that spanned 14 films. Myrna remembered: “My first scene with Bill, a night shot on the back lot, happened before we’d even met. Woody [Van Dyke, the director] was apparently too busy for introductions. My instructions were to run out of a building, through a crowd, and into a strange car. When Woody called “Action,” I opened the car door, jumped in, and landed smack on William Powell’s lap. He looked up nonchalantly: “Miss Loy, I presume?” I said, “Mr. Powell?” And that’s how I met the man who would be my partner in fourteen films.”
Secondly, notorious bank robber John Dillinger was gunned down outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater after seeing this film on July 22, 1934. This event has been tied to the film forever. Myrna recalled: “Supposedly a Myrna Loy fan, he broke cover to see me. Personally, I suspect the theme of the picture rather than my fatal charms attracted him, but I’ve always felt guilty about it, anyway. They filled him full of holes, poor soul.”
Also it’s one of the first roles for a youngster named Mickey Rooney, who played Clark’s character as a child. His performance in this film led to a contract with MGM and the beginning of an illustrious career.
Oh and lastly, it is worth noting that this is the only film in which you can find the former husband of Carole Lombard starring with the future husband of Carole Lombard!