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Thursday, March 12, 2015

DARK HAZARD (1934)

W. R. Burnett’s novel (see poster) makes a pleasingly off-beat Warners programmer in the second of three Burnett stories to star Edward G. Robinson. It misses the iconic standing of his LITTLE CAESAR/’31’ and the grand comic surprise that is THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING/’35*, getting by with its unusual subject (canine race track gambling) and by the rare instance of having two gals fighting over Eddie G. He’s a heavy gambler, up one day at the tables; then losing it all on the horses. Starting over in a small, conservative town, he swears he’ll go straight in order to win the hand of Genevieve Tobin, but then can’t turn down a swell job at the dog track. Soon, he’s back with his old crowd, including coarse gal pal Glenda Farrell, and the old pattern of lucky streaks & crapping out returns. On the bum and tramping around, he tries returning to Tobin, but can’t stop himself from buying a broken down race dog (Dark Hazard) . . . and all bets are off. Alfred E. Green megs by-the-numbers, but the story is laid out, and resolves itself, in such a peculiar manner that the film easily holds your interest. Not nearly enough dog or training action, but a couple of standout Pre-Code moments that have Robinson confessing to a game of strip poker (Eddie keep your pants on!) and even apologizing for not being able to get it up during an illicit rendezvous. (Do we really want to think about these things?) In fact, the tag at the finish has him boasting of being ready for action. Eddie, you're sharing too much!

DOUBLE-BILL: *At last available on DVD, THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING, one of the most delightful, surprising and undersung of Hollywood classics. Robinson, in a double role as a tough gangster (natch) and the milquetoast accountant mistaken for the guy, untangles the mess with loyal Jean Arthur who breaks thru as a full-fledged star after a decade in film under the nimble & rousing direction of John Ford. Yep, that John Ford, showing romantic, farcical & pacey chops. Who’da thunk it?

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