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Saturday, December 24, 2016

THE HOODLUM SAINT (1946)

M-G-M botched a pretty good idea here. Poached from Warners where it was THE ROARING TWENTIES/’39: James Cagney? Humphrey Bogart? Raoul Walsh? WWI vet comes home to find his old job taken? Falls to the gutter before turning wise & ruthless? Plays one employer against another as he moons over a good girl and takes for granted a lovestruck nightclub singer? Sound familiar? Don’t forget to include a splashy Stock Market Crash montage. Maybe M-G-M borrowed a print. They did change the angle. Cagney worked outside the law, a Prohibition Era booze-running mob guy. M-G-M has gentlemanly William Powell run a similar course from inside the system, moving from muckraking journalist to profiteering banker, and losing his humanity in the process. (Hey, that’s the pretty good idea!) If only someone were around to take the reins. Norman Taurog directs on auto-pilot and producer Cliff Reid was closing out his career at 50. Powell, thirty uncomfortable years older than romantic interests Esther Williams & Angela Lansbury (and with a lousy dye job in the early scenes), does what he can with the underwritten script. But with so many colorful characters (Damon Runyon mugs, inspirational priests, sweet bitty cleaning ladies), and a charity scam added to beef up the third act, the story collapses in beatitude. Where THE ROARING TWENTIES sent Cagney up cathedral steps to die, Powell climbs them to get religion. The difference between Warners & M-G-M in a nutshell.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Sometimes, M-G-M let Angela Lansbury do her own singing (PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY/’45; TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY/’46), sometimes not (HARVEY GIRLS/’46; here).

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned, THE ROARING TWENTIES.

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