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Monday, December 16, 2013

THE BIG SHAKEDOWN (1934)

This Warners programmer tries for that ripped-from-the-headlines mojo, but comes off half-baked. Bette Davis and Charles Farrell (on loan from Fox and slipping) run a little drug store that’s being squeezed on one side by a big chain operation that wants to buy them out and on the other by a mob-owned beer company that doesn’t have the quality product needed to survive in the post-Prohibition marketplace. What a headache for its wise guy entrepreneur Ricardo Cortez! But when he gets fast relief from one of Farrell’s mock-up headache powders, he lures the mug to sign on as his chemical counterfeiter. Farrell can make the goods while Cortez & his gang flood the market with his knock-off cosmetics & drugs, labeled just like the real McCoy. That’s a swell set up for an early ‘30s pic (heck, it’s still a good idea), but no one does much with it. Nicely shot by Sid Hickox, if only the script didn’t pretty much drop Davis after the first act (Glenda Farrell, as Cortez's moll, gets more to do), leaving that other Farrell to whine about his bad decisions before getting off scot-free at the finish. Still, it’s worth watching just to see Davis react to a bashful customer too timid to buy what was once called a ‘French Envelope.’

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