US / 57 minutes / bw / Victory Dir: Al Herman Pr: Sam Katzman Scr: Al Martin Story: “Vengeance of the Lord” (n.d.) by Peter B. Kyne Cine: Bill Hyer Cast: Regis Toomey, Sheila Terry, Molly O’Day, Snub Pollard, Robert Warwick, Fuzzy Knight, Gordon Griffith, Arthur Loft, John Elliott, Jack Cowell.
Deputy DA Ted Clark (Toomey) is out speeding in his car one day when he half-inadvertently rescues pickpocket Danny (Pollard), who, having been caught in the act of stealing a woman’s purse, is in the process of receiving summary justice from some passers-by. Ted concludes that Danny is “both a crook and a regular guy” and decides to give him a break. When they go to give back the purse to its owner, Ann Dawson (Terry), they discover she’s being pursued by the goons of gangster Jim Grant (Griffith). Grant killed a woman called Jane Francis—who had dumped him for Ann’s brother Bruce—and then framed Bruce for the crime. Bruce is now within 48 hours of execution. The reason the goons want Ann’s purse is that she has in it documentary proof of Grant’s guilt and Bruce’s innocence.
Regis Toomey as the DA.
Ted and Danny make themselves her champions. The challenge is to find the Governor (Warwick) in double-quick time so that he can stay the execution. The difficulty is that he’s off on vacation upstate at the Idlewild Hunting Club, shooting ducks and other defenseless wildlife with the local sheriff (Elliott). So there’s a race between the good guys, who want to present the exonerating evidence to the Governor, and the bad guys, who want to see it destroyed—preferably alongside Ted, Ann and Danny—before it ever gets anywhere near the Governor.
Snub Pollard as the pickpocket.
The details of that competition are rather fun. Our pals have gotten back to Ted’s home, but soon realize Grant’s goons weren’t far behind and are now surrounding the house. Danny has the great idea that he and Ann should swap clothes; dressed as her, he’ll draw off the goons, leaving the field clear for Ted and Ann to bolt to the nearby station and catch a train for Idlewild. Grant gets wind of this through his goon Clem (Cowell), and decides to get there first by chartered airplane. By then his goons have captured Danny and tried to beat out of him what’s going on.
Gordon Griffith as the baddy.
After they’ve left, it’s easy enough for Danny to trick the remaining, assuredly dumbcluck goon, Montague (Knight), into letting him free. Danny has overheard Grant’s cunning scheme, and so persuades a local biplane pilot to drop him directly onto the roof of the train in which Ted and Ann are travelling. It’s all plain sailing from there . . . except that, oops, how did you guess, it isn’t.
Fuzzy Knight as the dimwit.
The dropping of Danny onto the roof of the train is certainly the high-point of the chase, but it’s not the funniest. Once he’s warned Ted and Ann of Grant’s plan, they all three decide to get off at the next station and take a plane themselves. When they get to the local airport they persuade the manager there—with the help of Ted’s Deputy DA card—that, rather than their having to wait around for another four hours for the next Idlewild flight, he should call back the one that’s only just left. Little do they know that Grant’s aboard it . . .
How not to board a train.
The movie suffers from a superfluity of car chases in its opening sequences—I counted three in the first six minutes or so—but thereafter settles down quite nicely. It’s well aware of its status as a comedy thriller, and does nothing to break the profitable mold. There are lots of clever lines chucked into the screenplay, even though as a whole it’s none too clever. One of the movie’s smartest moments comes right at the start, when there’s a series of rapid cuts between various elderly, well meaning citizens, all of whom are crying something along the lines of ‘Stop that man!’ It’s a very effective device, even if its sole endpoint is the summary citizens’ arrest of Danny by “concerned bystanders”.
There’s a lot of humor in this movie, mostly really quite well done. For this is Pollard’s movie—left, right and center. His is the central comedic role, and he exploits it admirably, arguably brilliantly, from slapstick moments—as when he’s cavorting around in Ann’s ill fitting clothes, or exhibiting the signs of cold turkey as he tries abruptly to wean himself from pickpocketing and safecracking—through to some excellently delivered one-liners.
Ann Dawson as the fugitive.
Exhibit A: When the various parties reach the Idlewild Hunting Club, Ted wants to put the vital letter in the hotel safe, which looks like it’s made out of not lead or solid steel but paper badly stretched over a wood framework. Danny takes one look at it and tells the club’s manager, Green (uncredited): “Say, if you ever have any trouble opening that thing, let me know.”
Exhibit B: At the hotel Danny discovers that his old flame Gertie (O’Day) is working there as a waitress. With the kind of artificiality that works just fine if you’re watching an old B-movie, they fall in love all over again . . . so long as Danny can promise her he’ll go straight. As he says to Ted, “Meet my future warden. I’m going to do a life stretch.”
Born Harold Fraser, Pollard was an Australian actor who made his name in slapstick Hollywood silents, including some by Hal Roach and opposite Harold Lloyd. After the transition from the silents to the talkies, he mostly did minor roles; this was one of the exceptions and, on its evidence, it’s hard to know quite why he was held back from a more significant talkies career. He does come across as really quite gay: maybe that was a problem in those unenlightened times.
The movie has lots of glitches. During any number of flailing punchups, the participants’ hats stay mysteriously in place, even when the wearers have been sent rolling across the ground. The same astonishing hat-adherence is exhibited when Danny, clutching a rope ladder and being whisked through the air at (presumably) some scores of miles per hour, is being lowered onto the top of the train. Much later, when all the main cast are at the swanky Idlewild Hunting Club, Gertie announces that “I’ll call the constable” and scuttles off phoneward, clearly oblivious to the fact that her hands are (according to the plot) still tied behind her back. Tricky dialing, hm?
Although it’s not actually a plot goof, the scene in which Danny and Ann swap clothes has its embarrassing moments. Ted sets Danny behind a screen and puts Ann behind the door of one of his apartment’s rooms, then acts as a sort of go-between, ferrying articles of apparel from one to the other. The scene goes on ’way too long, and seems to have been imported from a bad bedroom farce.
The movie’s worth watching for Pollard—really quite a lot worth watching for that reason alone—and also perhaps for a performance by the young Regis Toomey. Kyne is best known as the author of The Three Godfathers (1913), which has been adapted for the screen umpteen times since The Three Godfathers (1916) dir Edward LeSaint. O’Day, despite her high billing, has a very minor part, but makes the most of it.
On Jimbo Berkey’s site: Bars of Hate.