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Manhattan Melodrama (June 4, 2009)

Manhattan Melodrama was filmed from March 12th through April 3rd, 1934 and was released the next month, May. The director, W.S. Van Dyke, was called “one-take Woody”. He was able to economically shoot pictures in a very short time with few mistakes. Gangster pictures were a popular genre then – following Little Caesar with Edward G. Robinson and Public Enemy with James Cagney in 1931, and Scarface with Paul Muni in 1932. Americans knew all about organized crime, which got bigger during Prohibition. This film, when released in Europe, was often called Public Enemy Number One, a term the press used to identify outlaws with star quality. The script tries to clarify that Clark Gable was a gambler, not a gangster, but the distinction matters little.

William Powell was born in 1892 in Pittsburgh and had a Broadway career before working for Paramount from 1924 to 1930 and Warner Brothers from 1931 to 1934. This was the first picture he made for MGM. Myrna Loy was born in 1905 in Montana and had been in pictures since 1925, but had only landed a contract with MGM in 1933. This was their first pairing on film. Van Dyke had directed Loy earlier in a great little picture with a similar tone, called Penthouse (1933), but that didn’t have the star quality of either Gable or Powell to recommend it.

You’ll notice all the little things that make this film attractive. Mickey Rooney plays the young Blackie Gallagher, who is played as an adult by Clark Gable. Lorenz Hart tries out the lyrics to a Richard Rodgers tune, called “The Bad in Every Man.” It’ll seem familiar because the lyrics were later rewritten and the song became the classic, “Blue Moon.” Arthur Caesar won the Academy Award for best writing for his original story for this picture.

John Dillinger, the bank robber, saw this movie at the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago on July 22, 1934. Outside Melvin G. Purvis and the FBI were waiting. They had been tipped off that he would go to the movie either there or another theater. The FBI shot him to death in a nearby alley.

I hope you enjoy Manhattan Melodrama, an entertaining movie which gives us a glimpse of the times in which it was made.