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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

HARD TO HANDLE (1933)

James Cagney returned to the Warners lot after one of his periodical walkouts (note the ‘Hey, Folks! – I’m Back’ ad copy) for this energetic, if scattershot, comedy. Only a step or two above a programmer, but loaded with Depression atmosphere, just about everyone in it is working some angle. Cagney’s an ‘ideas man,’ a promoter and something of a con-man. Currently in California, he’s set to collect on a big Dance Marathon when his partner takes off with all the proceeds. Even the prize money! Cue mob riot, with Cagney just a step ahead of the crowd. Picking himself up, dusting himself off, and starting all over again in NYC, he may be flat broke, but there’s always the next sensation to ballyhoo as he tries to win the trust of regular fiancée, Mary Brian.* He finds one, too. Grapefruit! (Wouldn’t you know.) Trouble is, she kinda prefers the mug when he’s not ridin’ high. A cute idea. With Mervyn LeRoy megging in crass, but lively style. But after the dance-till-you-drop opening, the story isn’t so much constructed as piled on. With rivals for all parties, and most of the best lines given to Ruth Donnelly’s mother-in-law to be. It’s watchable, but almost any Cagney pic of the period (fore or aft**) would be more satisfying.

DOUBLE-BILL: **Fore: THE CROWD ROARS/’32; Aft: PICTURE SNATCHER/’33. Or check out the lesser known, but hilarious JIMMY THE GENT/’34 to see this sort of thing nailed by the whole cast & crew. The bump in quality & brio from director Michael Curtiz is striking.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Cagney’s gal pal here, Mary Brian made more of an impression in the silents. She’s pleasant enough, if hardly distinctive. But she sure was busy in '33, nine pics!

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