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Sunday, April 22, 2018

BIG CITY (1937)

From M-G-M, Hollywood’s most dependably Republican studio, a rare pro-Proletariat take on a big city taxi war that’s tearing the town apart as well as indie cabbie Spencer Tracy and his Eastern European wife Luise Rainer. It takes director Frank Borzage a good half hour to find his footing during a series of slo-mo meet-cute scenes for this already married couple, even with Tracy manfully trying to ground Rainer away from her typical moping and insufferable heavenward gaze. But the film comes to life when bad guy William Demerest sets off a bomb in his own company garage, pinning the blame on Rainer. Pregnant and suddenly on the lam to avoid deportation, the situation becomes cleverly loaded with left-leaning politics & class prejudice normally sidestepped or given the most anodyne of treatment. Especially at the house that Louis B. Mayer built. (See Borzage & Tracy, with Joan Crawford, revert to form on their very next film, MANNEQUIN/’37.) Not that things stay tough for long, as an amusing eleventh-hour ride-to-the-rescue gets followed by a riotous all-star boxing donnybrook of a finale. (Real boxing stars; very funny stuff.) Still, just enough left in for something to chew on; presumably even more pointed in the original script from Hollywood progressive Dore Schary, later Mayer’s unhappy successor at the studio. Interesting stuff, if only Luise wouldn’t coo with gratitude while gazing upward, ever upward.

DOUBLE-BILL: Similar urban cabbie wars in TAXI/’32, a snappy Early Talkie with James Cagney & Loretta Young that emphasizes gangster elements along with a touch of Cagney’s unexpected Yiddish. OR: As mentioned above, MANNEQUIN.

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