“21 days and all of them nights.”
In the 1930s America was fascinated by gangsters. The bad men criss crossing the country causing trouble provided Americans with as much entertainment as a movie did. Realizing how popular gangsters were the film industry quickly jumped on the subject. For much of the early 1930s the film studios turned out gangster films left and right. Of several gangster films MGM released was Public Hero #1.
Jeff Crane (Chester Morris) is put in jail for robbing a beer brewery. He shouts promises at the prison guards that he will get out. Jeff causes all kinds of trouble. After starting a riot in the mess hall he is thrown into a solitary cell for twenty-one days. When he gets out of solitary, Jeff tells his cellmate Sonny (Joseph Calleia) that he plans on getting out by using guns which he says are the only things keeping him inside. Jeff tells Sonny he has people on the outside that can help. He sneaks a note out. His men will come at the next prison board meeting. One of Sonny’s men comes with. One of Jeff’s men comes with a truck to drop off scrap metal. Sonny pretends to knock a barrel down as a distraction. Jeff pretends to help pick up the scarp and he gets down under the truck to assemble a gun. Jeff and Sonny hold up a guard and the two of them go up to the board members. They get some clothes get out of the prison in a car. There is a shoot out on the road and Sonny is shot. Jeff and Sonny are wanted all over the United States.
Jeff goes to the Department of Justice’s office. He is an agent with the office. The entire break out with Sonny was orchestrated to get Sonny out so they can infiltrate and take down Sonny’s operation. The head of the department, Duff, tells Jeff to go to a doctor who can help fix up Sonny. On the way to get a doctor Jeff is going too fast in the rain. He sends a bus off the road. A woman named Theresa (Jean Arthur) gets him to take all the people on the bus to a hotel nearby. Jeff goes to get Doctor Josiah Glass (John Barrymore). The Doctor is drunk passed out in his bed. Jeff carries him out to the car. When they arrive back at the hotel the Doctor puts his equipment up on the bar for collateral planning to drink the night away. Theresa sees them and goes up to them. Through some embarrassment she gets Jeff to take her out to dinner.
That night when the storm clears Jeff and the Doctor leave the hotel but another storm comes along. Jeff tries to drive over a bridge but it collapses. Theresa pops out of the car having snuck in it when before Jeff left. They find a house to stay at. Jeff and Theresa flirt. As she rummages in her suitcase Jeff sees she has a photograph of Sonny. She tells him Sonny is her brother. Eventually Theresa figures out that Jeff and Sonny are the convicts from the paper.
Jeff has seen Sonny again. After seeing Sonny he goes to Duff’s office to tell him about a robbery Sonny is planning on committing. Jeff asks Duff to take care of Theresa if anything should happen to him, he says she is a good girl she is only trying to reform her brother. Jeff does not want Theresa to go to jail. Something happens where Jeff was not with Sonny when the robbery was committed. Duff throws Jeff of the case.
Jeff goes to see the Doctor. He tells the drunkard that they have to get out of town. Jeff pretends to pass out on the wheel as they are driving away so the Doctor can take over. The Doctor takes Jeff to a garage. The garage is Sonny’s gang’s hide out. Jeff knew the Doctor was in with Sonny and calls Duff. The Feds and Jeff have a shoot out with Sonny’s gang. In the commotion Sonny manages to get away.
Duff believes that Theresa is laundering money to Sonny and has her come in. He wants Jeff to question her. Theresa tells both men she has no idea where her brother is. She is very mad at Jeff for what he did. Jeff and Duff come up with the idea to get Sonny to come out into the open. They know he needs money so they place an ad in the paper as if it was Theresa asking him to come to the theater where she works. Sonny comes. They plan to go into the theater when Theresa leaves her booth. Unfortunately Theresa comes back and sits in a diner near the entrance to the theater and she sees Duff and Jeff. She goes into the theater to try to warn her brother. Sonny runs away and Jeff chases him. Sonny shoots Jeff but the agent shoots the gangster dead.
To end this story Theresa leaves New York to return home and Jeff follows her.
The cast was pretty good. Jean Arthur is always wonderful to see in films. I felt she was wasted though. Arthur was used as a love angle to for the main character. Well, she was the gangster’s sister but mostly she was a love interest for Chester Morris foremost. What a waste of her talents. I will say as usual she was ridiculously adorable though. Chester Morris was awesome. I loved his roughness at the beginning of the film when he was in jail. I know I have seen him in films before this but I really took notice of him here… probably due to the fact that he was the main character he was not thrown in the background. Lionel Barrymore gets top billing but he is barely in it… I feel like I write that a lot about him. He is barely in some films I have watched him lately and he gets top billing. Unfair to the other actors I say.
Public Hero #1 is a good film. The story is nothing to really brag about. It is not terrible but it is not a stand out film I would say for everyone to watch. I only suggest watching Public Hero #1 if you are a fan of Jean Arthur or Chester Morris or Lionel Barrymore.