Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lady-Killer (1933)

Lady-Killer (Roy Del Ruth, 1933) Light-hearted gangster picture in the same manner as the Humphrey Bogart All Through the Night. Cagney plays Dan Quigley, an entrepreneur of sorts, who when we first see him is "in the picture business"—he's an usher in a Big Apple movie theater, in trouble for disappearing and running crap games on the side. He gets fired for telling a patron what she can do with her toy poodle, and out on the street, notices a dame (Mae Clarke) losing her billfold. Nice guy Dan follows her to her apartment, returns it and finds a nickle-ante poker game in the back. He helps himself, gets cleaned out and on his way out the hall, runs into another rube...returning another billfold. The poker game's a racket, a going concern, with the billfold a way to lure in good-intentioned suckers. But rather than getting sore, Dan laughs it off, and uses his cracking wise to parlay himself in on the deal.

Before long, he and the girl, Myra, and the four poker grifters are running a crooked speak-easy, the 7-11 Club, while also doing some knock-overs of ritzy swells from the casino on the side. Dan stages traffic accidents outside the manses of the targeted customers, gets himself taken inside by the worried owners to case the joint, then once his cronies arrive with an ambulance, he gets taken out on a stretcher and the "attendants" do the same for the loot. But, during one of the capers a maid gets her skull caved in and eventually (as they say in the movie) "croaks." The Club gets raided on the word of a stoolie and soon the whole bunch is on the lam.

Quigley and Myra high-tail it to L.A., only to have Dan picked up on suspicion by the LAPD, and when he calls Myra to cough up his bail, she's skipped, along with gang-leader Spade Maddock (Douglass Dumbrille). With nothing to hold him on, the cops release Quigley and eventually he finds work as an extra in the movie business, at which point, life starts to get good, especially with frequent co-star Lois Underwood (Margaret Lindsay), until his old partners start making trouble for him.
Very fanciful, but Cagney is lighter on his feet here than he is playing his "heavies," in fact, this movie is full of wise-acre slang and a lot of good laugh-lines, most of them coming from Cagney's Quigley, who laughs at every joke. He's a good-time charlie, not meaning any harm, but not wanting to do too much good, either. And Cagney's paired with his co-star from The Public Enemy, Mae Clarke, who gets more than a grapefruit pushed in her face here. At one point, Cagney alarmingly grabs her by her hair and drags her out of his room and throws her, bodily, into the hallway (alarming enough that I'm not posting the gif of it here) The makers have a lot of fun at Hollywood's expense, sending up the movie business and the extravagant lifestyle. It's almost a romp for Cagney, only a couple years removed from The Public Enemy, and goes some way—but not too much—in rehabilitating his public image. Still a tough guy, but not pure evil, either.

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