Big City Blues is a good example of early classic cinema. The sound was not full of hissing and static (sure it has been cleaned up most likely but sometimes there are those films that still sound terrible) and the voice was clear, the direction by Mervyn LeRoy was excellent, and the plot was alright. The story is not too great but along the way there are some racy Pre-Code things going on underneath.
A young man named Bud Reeves (Eric Linden) from Indiana has just come into money. He decides to go to New York City. The train station master lets Bud know that the city is really rough that when he went there as a young man he had jobs up and down all the boroughs. Bud is young and naïve but he sees the city as a great place full of opportunity and fun (who DOESN’T see that even today?). The station master and one of the workers makes a bet that Bud will be back in ten days.
Bud has a cousin named Gibboney- Gibby for short. Gibby is a man about town with much money and much influence. In the lobby of the hotel that he is staying Bud is introduced by Gibby to two chorus girls one of them being Vida Fleet (Joan Blondell) who Bud takes an instant liking to. That night Gibby throws a little party in Bud’s hotel room. Vida is there along with some other people one of them being Shep Adkins (Humphrey Bogart). During the party a fight breaks out between Shep and another man. The lights go out during the fight but when the lights come on a girl named Jackie is found dead from being hit in the head with a glass bottle. Everyone runs even Gibby leaving Bud to take the blame.
Now Bud is the prime suspect and he is on the run. Nobody is coming forward about the crime and the police are at all the stations, bus and train, keeping their eyes out for him.
Eventually Bud is cleared and he goes back home after only seventy-two hours of leaving for New York City.
The story was not too bad I think I would have liked it more if Eric Linden had not been the lead. His acting got on my nerves something fierce after a while. I know he was supposed to be an innocent guy naïve to big city life and partying but I did not like him at all. I found him more whiney and annoying than anything else. Joan Blondell and the rest of the cast was perfect. Blondell was a very good actress the more I see of her the more I enjoy her and the more she becomes to me the epitome of a Pre-Code actress. Humphrey Bogart had a very small part as Shep Adkins and he is not even credited. I liked him in his small scene you can tell he was on his way to becoming one of the best tough guys.
There are several aspects of this film that make it a Pre-Code. At the party in Bud’s room a girl is reading a line from the lesbian themed book Well of Loneliness by Radclyff Hall. The book was heavily censored and caused a big sensation when it was released. Prohibition was still going on so Gibby had to get bootleg booze and several club scenes were speakeasies. At the end the real killer is found hanging in his closet after he killed himself. You do not the guy hanging in entirety you just seen his hands and feet, scenes like this would not be shown for a very long time in films after the Hayes Code was enforced.
Big City Blues is not a bad Pre-Code but it definitely was not the best I have seen. I did like how Bud looked at New York City because so many millions of people look at it the same way: full of opportunity and new adventures and fun. I go to New York City all the time and every time I go it is so exciting. I guess if I lived there and really experienced it I would not feel that way and I would be let down much like Bud was … just without the murder charges. There are some points in the film that drag while others keep you entertained especially when Bud arrives and meets up with his cousin for the first time. Big City Blues is a good example of Pre-Code films in the 1930s and keeps up with Warner Bros’ reputation for releasing gritty films during the decade.