Toronto Film Society presented Larceny, Inc. (1942) on Monday, March 20, 2017 in a double bill with It’s a Wonderful World as part of the Season 69 Monday Evening Film Buff Series, Programme 7.
Production Company: Warner Bros. Producer: Ha. B. Wallis. Director: Lloyd Bacon. Screenplay: Everett Freeman and Edwin Gilbert, based on the play by Laura Perelman and S.J. Perelman. Cinematography: Tony Gaudio. Music: Adolph Deutsch. Editor: Ralph Dawson. Costume Design: Milo Anderson. Art Direction: John Hughes. Release Date: May 2, 1942.
Cast: Edward G. Robinson (J. Chalmers “Pressure” Maxwell), Jane Wyman (Denny Costello), Broderick Crawford (Jug Martin), Jack Carson (Jeff Randolph), Anthony Quinn (Leo Dexter), Edward Brophy (Weepy Davis), Harry Davenport (Homer Bigelow), John Qualen (Sam Bachrach, a businessman), Barbara Jo Allen (Mademoiselle Gloria), Grant Mitchell (Mr. Aspinwall), Jackie Gleason (Hobart, soda shop clerk).
This is TFS’s last Monday film of Season 69 and it’s a good way to lead into our upcoming May Movie Magic weekend which will be featuring six films of one of the silver screen’s most admired film actors, Edward G. Robinson. He rose to fame as the definitive iconic gangster, Ricco, in 1930’s Little Caesar (which we’ll be screening) but was so versatile that he was able to play any type of character he was given. And lucky for us, he was given many to tackle. In this afternoon’s film, he still plays the gangster, but a much more lovable one in this enjoyable crime comedy.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times had this to say on April 25, 1942: “You can’t say that Edward G. Robinson doesn’t try hard to go straight. In his past three or four pictures, he has played more or less ‘legitimate’ roles…[but] in Larceny, Inc. he is found on the shady side of the street. And considering the traffic is very hectic and amusing over there, it is a passing pleasure to see him back with the mob…. Mr. Robinson, as usual, is a beautifully hard-boiled yegg. The principal joy is to watch him. His ‘Pressure’ cooks with gas.”
In Daniel Bubbeo’s book The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies, he writes: “Everett Freeman and Edwin Gilbert based their slight script on Laura and S.J. Perelman’s 1941 theatrical farce The Night Before Christmas. What the story lacked in originality was compensated for by Lloyd Bacon’s smart direction and the ingratiating performance of Robinson and a stellar supporting cast, including Jackie Gleason in a bit as a soda jerk. For Jane Wyman, Larceny, Inc. marked the first of many pairings with Jack Carson, who played her boyfriend. Though one doesn’t think of them as a classic screen team, Carson’s animal charm and Jane’s brashness were a potent blend.”
In Ralph Schiller’s The Complete Films of Broderick Crawford, he writes: Broderick Crawford does great comic work as Jug Martin, and plays comic to Robinson’s straight man. Loaned-out by Universal, Crawford has third billing with a larger role than second-billed Jane Wyman. After five years of perfecting his portrayal of the lovable, dumb-cluck palooka (when he wasn’t playing sinister villains), Broderick Crawford is a hoot to watch as Jug, a kind-hearted fellow who disguises his nice demeanor behind broad shoulders, muscles, and a tough guy pose. To emphasize this, the “tough guy” mask slips in a scene where Jug, dressed in a Santa Claus suit, tries to pick a fight with a passerby.
Co-starring with the Warner Bros. big gun Edward G. in a box office hit, elevated Crawford’s status at his home studio Universal.
Note that Larceny, Inc. was re-made as Small Time Crooks in 2000 starring Woody Allen with the setting changed from a luggage shop to a bakery. Allen took sole writing credit for an original script.
And just to note that at our last Monday screening, we saw Anthony Quinn in Heller in Pink Tights. It’s always interesting to see an actor play two different types of roles close together, which will definitely be the case in today’s film when he portrays ex-con Leo Dexter.
Introduction by Caren Feldman
Plot: Convict J. Chalmers “Pressure” Maxwell intends to go straight after his release from prison, but his plans are thwarted by a lack of funds, so he decides, instead, to rob the bank that has refused his request for a loan, joined by his fellow inmate Leo Dexter. He buys a luggage store next door to the bank and gets two accomplices to start digging a tunnel in the basement, but is persuaded by his daughter, Denny, to turn the store into a legitimate business, instead, which turns out to be a success. He plans to give up the robbery idea, but is forced by Leo to go through with it. Complications ensue.
Reception: The movie is generally judged to be “good, lightweight fun” with an interesting premise and a fine cast, with Robinson deliberately parodying his normal screen image. “A hilarious little comedy”, according to Leonard Maltin.
Lloyd Bacon (1889-1955): His start in film was as an actor, appearing in several of Charlie Chaplin’s 1915-1917 films, as well as some westerns. He later became a director, making over 100 films between 1920 and 1955 in almost all genres–western, gangster, musical, melodrama, comedy, war, and sport–and was a Warners stalwart who helped create the studio’s reputation for fast-paced, “torn from the headlines” action films. His best-known films include 42nd Street and Footlight Parade, both in 1933; The Oklahoma Kid, featuring Bogart and Cagney, in 1939; and Knute Rockne, All American, starring Ronald Reagan, in 1940. He moved from Warners to a variety of other studios in the 1940s and 1950s.
Edward G. Robinson (1893-1973): He was born as Emanuel Goldenberg in Bucharest to a Yiddish-speaking, Romanian, Jewish family which immigrated to the United States as a result of anti-Semitic violence, in 1903. He won an American Academy of Dramatic Arts scholarship and began his acting career in 1913, under the name of Edward G. Robinson. He worked on Broadway until 1930, establishing a reputation as a snarling gangster in the police/crime drama The Racket in 1927. He then took up a full-time film career and made 101 films over the next fifty years. Though best known for his gangster roles in such films as Little Caesar, Tiger Shark, A Slight Case of Murder, and Key Largo, he flourished also in comedies and films-noir: Double Indemnity, The Stranger, and two of Fritz Lang’s best Hollywood films, The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street. He was a highly cultured, soft-spoken man who spoke seven languages and was a knowledgeable art collector. Robinson was also a generous contributor to political and charitable groups and a strong anti-Fascist. He played an FBI agent in Confessions of a Nazi Spy, in 1939. He volunteered for military service in 1942, but was disqualified due to his age; instead, he was asked to deliver radio addresses in six languages to European countries under Nazi occupation and was the first move star to travel to Europe to entertain the US troops after the invasion of Normandy, in 1944. Despite this strong evidence of patriotism, he was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1950, and again in 1952, for alleged Communist sympathies and was threatened with blacklisting. Though his name was subsequently cleared, he received fewer starring roles for some years afterwards, until returning to the A-list in the later 1950s and 1960s, in such films as A Hole in the Head and The Cincinnati Kid. He was never nominated for an Academy Award, but was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1973, in recognition that he had “achieved greatness, as a player, a patron of the arts, and a dedicated citizen–in sum, a Renaissance man.” He had been notified of this but died before the ceremony, so the award was accepted by his widow, Jane Robinson.
Broderick Crawford (1911-1986): Born William Broderick Crawford to parents who were both vaudeville performers on Broadway, he joined his parents on stage at an early age. After having worked, as a young man, as a stevedore on the New York docks, he returned to the stage and took the role of Lenny in Of Mice and Men on Broadway, in 1937. He then moved to Hollywood and, after appearing mostly in B-films, had great success as the politician Willie Stark in All the King’s Men, in 1949, for which he won the Academy Award for best actor. Future roles, however, tended to typecast him as a violent character with criminal tendencies. He worked for a time in Italy, appearing in Federico Fellini’s Il Bidone in 1955, and then was given the lead role in the television police drama Highway Patrol, which was a huge success and led to both television and film work in the 1960s and up until 1982. He was a heavy drinker for most of his adult life, as well as consistently over-eating, a combination that finally led to a series of strokes and his death in 1986.
Jane Wyman (1917-2007): She was born Sarah Jane Mayfield; later changed her name to Jane Durrell; and then adopted her then-married name of Jane Wyman. After an unsettled and unhappy childhood, she dropped out of school early to take up a radio singing career and then a move to Hollywood, where she obtained small roles before signing with Warners in 1936. She gained wider recognition with The Lost Weekend (1945), followed by The Yearling (1946), and then won an Oscar as a deaf-mute rape victim in Johnny Belinda, in 1948. The award gave her the opportunity to work with such prestigious directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, and Michael Curtiz . Her movie career began to decline in the 1960s, but was replaced by success in television in the 1980s; most notably in the soap opera Falcon Crest, until she began to experience serious health problems that eventually forced her to retire. She was married five times, most notably to Ronald Reagan, with whom she had co-starred in Brother Rat in 1938; they married in 1940 and divorced in 1949.
Anthony Quinn (1915-2001): He was born in Mexico of mixed Irish and Mexican heritage and grew up in Texas and Los Angeles. Quinn was a professional boxer, as a young man, before studying art and architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright and then moving into stage and film with roles of “ethnic” characters in such films as Road to Morocco and They Died with Their Boots On (both 1941). His first real success, however, was on the stage, playing Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway in 1947, though the screen role went to Marlon Brando. He appeared with Brando in Elia Kazan’s Viva Zapata (1952) and won his first Oscar. He then went to work in Italy and made several films there, most notably giving a superb performance in Federico Fellini’s La Strada, in 1954. He continued in “ethnic” roles on his return to America–“Inuit” in The Savage Innocents (1959); “Greek” in The Guns of Navarone (1961); “Bedouin” in Lawrence of Arabia (1962); and “Greek” again, to huge popular success, in Zorba the Greek (1964). Other roles in this period were as Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956); an aging boxer in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962); and starring with Anna Magnani in The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969). He also returned to Broadway for Jean Anouilh’s play Becket, in 1960, where he played King Henry II to Laurence Olivier’s Thomas Becket, to great acclaim. His film career slowed somewhat after 1970, and his roles were mainly “ethnic” once more, despite his stated desire to avoid typecasting. He was married three times, his first wife being Katherine DeMille, the adopted daughter of Cecil B. DeMille; they married in 1937 and divorced in 1965.
Tony Gaudio (1883-1951): Born in Italy, he worked shooting short films for Italian companies before moving to New York in 1906 and working for Vitagraph. His distinguished career included Hell’s Angels (1930), Little Caesar (1930), Tiger Shark (1932), The Life of Emile Zola (1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and High Sierra (1941). He was a favourite of Bette Davis and worked on eleven of her films, including Bordertown and The Letter. He won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Anthony Adverse and was nominated five other times.
Notes by Graham Petrie