US / 62 minutes / bw / Burroughs–Tarzan Dir: Vin Moore Pr: W.N. Selig Scr: J. Mulhauser (i.e., James Mulhauser) Story: play by Willard Mack Cine: Edward Kull Cast: Rod La Rocque, Marian Nixon, Betty Compson, Jack Adair, John Dilson, Edward Keane, Donald Kerr, Joseph W. Girard, John Bantry, Ed LeSaint, Allen Mathews, Sid Payne.
Hard-working, hard-partying social reporter Kit Van Buren (Marian Nixon).
Ne’er-do-well playboy Lawrence “Larry” Thomas Jr. (La Rocque) is turfed out of the family legal practice by his father (LeSaint) for his idleness and decadent habits. Instead he must take a job as assistant to DA Thomas J. Harrison (Girard). The night before joining the DA’s office Larry takes his society-reporter girlfriend Katherine “Kit” Van Buren (Nixon) to a dancing/gambling niterie called The Dover Club, run by notorious hoodlum Joe Ross (Adair):
Larry: Tonight we celebrate.
Kit: Celebrate? But that’s what we do five nights in a week, isn’t it?
Mollie (Betty Compson) arrives at the Dover Club.
That evening Mollie Cole (Compson) arrives to see Ross. Her husband Fred (Bantry) is doing eight years for a crime he committed with Ross and crooked shyster Arnold Crane (Dilson); Crane promised he’d get Fred out within three months if Fred kept his mouth shut. Time has passed and, so far as Mollie can see, Crane has done nothing about fulfilling his promise. The nest thing you know, when Kit goes to make a phone call, the murdered body of Mollie comes tumbling out of the booth.
It’s immediately obvious that Larry’s completely incompetent to investigate the crime; nonetheless his new boss, Harrison, insists he does. Soon Larry becomes convinced Ross must have a plant in the DA’s office, because the gangster seems to know Larry’s plans even before he’s made them. Larry’s right: the inside man is Arthur Hill (Keane). When Fred Cole escapes from prison, Larry correctly guesses he’s done so in order to take revenge upon Ross and the others for making a fallguy out of him and for killing Mollie. Hoping to find Fred at Ross’s empty office, Larry in fact finds Hill, and puts two and two together. Another murder, and attempted frame-up, and the cuffs are on the bad guys.
Shyster Arnold Crane (John Dilson) and pathetic mole Arthur Hill (Edward Keane).
This is one of those lumbering comedy-thrillers that filled the bottom of many a program all over the US in the 1930s. Compson, despite her billing, has little more than a bit part—a great pity, because the movie could have done with more of her. La Rocque is adequate, but it’s no surprise he’s been largely forgotten today; similarly, Nixon is appropriately pretty but leaves no lasting impression on the mind. Playing gadfly throughout is sensationalist radio journalist Al Wilson (Kerr), a sort of Frankie Darro-style smartass. Kerr appeared in nearly 500 known screen roles, the vast majority of them uncredited. He acquits himself perfectly well here—certainly better than many other cast members.
The Drag-Net was based on a play (of which I’ve been unable to find details) by Willard Mack, a very popular playwright, producer and performer on and off Broadway in the 1910s and 1920s. He’s best known today for having hired for his production of his play The Noose (1926) an actress called Ruby Stevens to play a small role, and recognizing that she had the makings of a star. Among much else he persuaded her to change her name . . . to Barbara Stanwyck.
“By Jove, Kit — you’re right!” Rod La Rocque and Marian Nixon as the amorous amateur sleuths.
On Amazon.com: The Drag-Net (DVD)