Saturday, January 29, 2011

Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

"I'm going to clean out every rotten spot I can find in this city, and, Blackie, I don't want to find you in any of them! "

Manhattan Melodrama is not the most exciting film ever made. I know great way to start a post and grab the readers’ attention. What the film lacks in excitement it makes up for in the interesting way the morals of the main characters are portrayed.
            Clark Gable plays a gangster named Blackie Gallagher who is friends with William Powell’s Jim Wade, the DA of New York City. They have been friends since they were young. Both boys were orphaned after an accident. From the beginning Blackie was always the sly gambler and Jim was always the nice kid. Both boys took different paths in life but remained best friends.
            Unfortunately their paths meet when Jim becomes the DA and must prosecute his friend for murder. This case will make Jim governor if he wins it. Blackie is accused of murder and sentenced to death. Jim is elected governor because he was able to honestly convict someone he knew.
            As the film progresses you do not want to see Blackie die or be convicted of any murder. The reason he was sentenced to death is because he killed someone who was planning to smear Jim’s name; he was saving his best friend. Blackie does not really seem like the villain, by the end of the film it is who we thought as the nice who is not really seen as a villain but as cold hearted for doing what he did to his friend. You can see the whole time that Jim is struggling with his emotions and what he feels is right and what should be done. You want Jim as Blackie’s friend to commute his sentence to life but unfortunately the Production Code would not allow that. These characters are what make the movie interesting enough to watch. They play against conventional types; we’re rooting for the bad guy and mad at the good guy.

            Now I have not forgotten about Myrna Loy… Loy plays Eleanor who was once dating Blackie. One night after Blackie did not show up to meet Jim Eleanor is left alone to entertain him. The two hit it off right away. Jim is the kind of man Eleanor wants. That night she tells Blackie that this is last chance to settle down with him but he tells her he cannot that settling down is not for him. Eleanor leaves him and a while later she and Jim are set to get married. Eleanor is also an interesting character; she cares for both Jim and Blackie very much. She knows how to work both of them and goes back and forth between the friends for different reasons. I have yet to see a performance of Myrna Loy’s that is not good. Eleanor is a character who knows what she wants from Jim and knows what she wants from Blackie; she’s not just a woman who gets bounced between the leading men. When I watch Myrna Loy with any of her roles I have seen her in you are watching the character not the actress. The character feels love and guilt and want and Loy portrays these feelings wonderfully.

            Clark Gable and William Powell also give very excellent performances. Powell is the same way as Loy, you are not watching an actor you are watching a character. You can see the torment on his face as Jim gives his speech in court, you can see the sadness on his face after his friend is sentenced to death. Before Manhattan Melodrama, I had only seen Gable in It Happened One Night as a silly character. He had the perfect look of a tough guy and a good guy. Unfortunately I felt like I was watching Clark Gable not Blackie Gallagher, don’t get me wrong Gable is a great actor I liked his acting but I did not feel like I was watching a character I felt like I was watching just the actor.
            This is the first of thirteen pairings (if someone can tell me what the fourteenth pairing is please let me know) of William Powell and Myrna Loy. Knowing how well the pair worked together in the Thin Man series you can see the spark that would later ignite into fire when they would play Nick and Nora. Watching Powell and Loy as Jim and Eleanor there was just so much chemistry between them, you can almost feel it.
            Manhattan Melodrama, although not fantastic is still a film to watch sometime. The whole film is different, in other words it was not what I expected which I like with movies. By the end you may feel like throwing something at William Powell but then once you really think about what Jim did you feel sorry. So watch the film if you would like to see where the Myrna Loy and William Powell pairing got started, if you like Clark Gable and want to see where he pretty much got his start for MGM, if you like courtroom scenes, or if you just want to see something different.