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Wednesday, September 8, 2010


In this early iteration of a favorite Warners storyline, Grant Withers & Regis Toomey play best pals who come to blows when Mary Astor, wife of the nice guy, falls hard for the bosom-buddy. In this version, the guys run a massive freight train which means they have to fight it out in the small engine car while their train hurtles ahead with no one at the controls. William Wellman did his best megging in the early Talkie era and you can feel him pushing new technical innovations all thru the film. Sometimes the limitations of early sound technology defeat him, but the rain-soaked climax, stunningly shot by lenser Barney McGill is pretty spectacular. (Ignore the unconvincing model shots and gasp at the glistening chiaroscuro and an amazing ultra-close up of Toomey.) Ultimately, the film is done in by the charisma-free leads (Toomey is solid, but bland and Withers just hasn’t got leading-man chops) and by an ending that’s a pointless sacrifice. But there are lovely things in here, like Withers grabbing a lunch counter meal in the time it takes his train to roll by; and in watching film newbies Joan Blondell (cracking wise) and James Cagney (doing a bit of hot hoofing) making everyone else look passé.

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