No film ever suffers from having William Powell in the lead. He was a great actor he could play comedy and drama to perfection. Time and again I go on about how classy and sophisticated he was which always added that little more to his characters and the films. Powell gives a great performance, as always, in The Hoodlum Saint but he feels miscast playing the love interest to the much younger Esther Williams and Angela Lansbury.
Terry O’Neill (Powell) has just returned from serving in World War I to find that he no longer has a job at his old newspaper where he was a reporter. He has nowhere to go and no food or clothes. One day Terry decides to crash a wedding of rich society people to try to get a job with any of them. There he meets the very pretty Kay Lorrison (Esther Williams). There is an instant attraction and after that they start seeing each other when he gets a job with her uncle’s newspaper.
After a few months on the job Terry leaves the paper to work for a man in the stock market. Kay and her uncle have no idea why he wants to work for the man since he had been going after the stock broker incessantly in the paper. Terry wants to make money he does not want to go back to not having money again. He goes to New York City and a few of his old friends tag along.
Terry becomes very successful and makes a lot of money and meets new people. Over the course of a few years he and Kay meet. Kay could not wait for him anymore so she married. Terry sees a singer named Dusty (Angela Lansbury) at a nightclub he frequents but he does not love her the way he loves Kay. One meeting years later Kay tells Terry that her husband died. They both want to be together again and they try to make it work. She sees that his life is all about making money he is not happy unless he has money.
The Stock Market Crash of 1929 happens and Terry is left with nothing. With Terry’s wealth gone Kay goes back to him.
In the middle of all this and the reason why the film is called The Hoodlum Saint is because one of Terry’s friends keeps landing in jail. To keep him from returning to jail Terry has the story told to him about St. Dismas the good thief who was crucified next to Christ. The friend gets out of jail and the plan works the friend becomes good. With Terry’s help the friend sets up a fund in the saint’s name to help others who have no place to go. Terry was never really a believer in the fund even though he wrote about it and put some money towards it until the end he needs help himself.
William Powell was just fabulous even though the part should have gone to someone younger… well I should not say younger I should MGM should have casted an older actress as Kay instead of Esther Williams. Williams wrote in her autobiography how even Powell thought it was ridiculous that he was cast to play a younger man with a much younger leading lady. Powell and Williams did not look bad together they were excellent but the age difference is noticeable. Powell was fifty-four and Williams was twenty-five. Powell was older than most of his leading ladies by quite a few years (thirteen between he and Myrna Loy) but that difference is nuts. Esther Williams is quite good as Kay. MGM was still testing how far they could go with her since she was really a swimmer. There was one line that was good Powell asks her “Do you want to go for a swim?” and she tells him that he is the guide and he takes her to a pool hall. I thought Williams was adorable and not a bad actress. Angela Lansbury played the sinister Dusty with ulterior motives. From the moment she first comes on screen you know she is no good. I liked her performance the best because I am used to seeing her as nice characters or hearing her as Mrs. Potts so when I see as a bad girl I like her. She did not have the look which makes her all the better at playing bad. Lansbury hid her accent very well, a big difference from her cockney accent in Gaslight.
The Hoodlum Saint had potential to be better. It could have gone that William Powell was cast in the role and an older actress could have played Kay or Esther Williams stayed and another actor could have played Terry. I got a little bored with the story after a while but for the most part The Hoodlum Saint is not a bad film. As I said at the beginning no film starring William Powell ever truly suffers.