Big Town (1932)

US / 57 minutes / bw / Trojan, Ideal Dir & Scr: Arthur Hoerl Cine: Nick Rogalli, Don Malkames Cast: Lester Vail, Frances Dade, John Miltern, Geoffrey Bryant, Edith Broder, Diane Bori, James La Curto, Walter Armin, Alan Brooks.

José “Joe” Romero (La Curto), a stool pigeon for the so-called Civic Uplift League—in fact a gang of socially high-placed crooks that blackmails malefactors rather than delivering them up to justice—proposes to squeal on the organization to boozy reporter Bob “Happy” Riley (Bryant) of the Daily Sentinel; before he can do so, though, Joe’s supposed girlfriend Etheline (Bori) rats him out to the big boss, Frederick Holman (Miltern), and Joe is taken for one last ride.

The Sentinel‘s foppish, George Sanders-like proprietor, James “Jimmy” Wylie (Vail), is engaged to Holman’s daughter Patricia “Pat” (Dade), both of them unwitting of her father’s true nature; when Jimmy learns the truth from Bob and challenges Holman on the subject, this brings an abrupt end to the engagement. After speakeasy owner Tony Figuerre (Armin) in turn tries to squeal to Bob, the League’s thugs bomb the club, killing Tony.

The Sentinel‘s campaign against Holman and the League goes into full swing, despite Holman’s bringing pressure on Jimmy and the paper—up to and including bombing the presses. Eventually Pat discovers the truth, and her allegiance shifts to Jimmy. He hides her away from her father in the guise of an invented girlfriend, “Gloria Summers”; as part of his harassment of Jimmy, Holman has “Gloria” framed for prostitution and, when he discovers what he’s done . . .

Bryant, Vail and Miltern are fine among the male leads, although Bryant—presumably under director Hoerl’s instructions—hams up the drunkenness a bit too much in pursuit of the obligatory comic relief; La Curto, too, is convincing in his small role. Many of the rest of the cast, however, are pretty wooden, and this includes both lead females: Dade, as the straight-arrow romantic interest, and Bori, whose inconsistent attempts to affect the slatternly manner of a quasi-hooker ring extremely hollow. By contrast, Broder carries off well her near-cameo part as Bob Riley’s wife, ever being stood up by him as he continues his dedicated quest for both story and bottle.

The name of the character Frederick Holman is listed in the opening credits as John Holman; errors like this in the credits of 1930s and 1940s fillers weren’t uncommon, of course.

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