|Run Time: 195min. | b/w
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Stars: Edward G. Robinson, Jane Wyman, Broderick Crawford, Jack Carson
Genres: Comedy | Crime
Ex-con Robinson and pal Crawford plan to run a dog track, but money is required. Along with Jane, they open a luggage store as a front, while attempting to tunnel into the bank next door. The laughs follow as thick as thieves. Hilarious.
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A friend of mine had told me that this was funnier than Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks I admit I was skeptical, as too many so-called comedies from the black and white era don’t get much more than a smile from me. My skepticism was rewarded with a very funny, fast-paced comedy with the kind of "crackling" dialogue they don’t write anymore. Edward G. Robinson is a scream in the lead, and his supporting cast equals him. Don’t miss this one. There’s never a dull moment!
Hysterical madcap fun. There may be no funnier moment in the history of film than Edward G. Robinson irritably gift wrapping a piece of luggage (all reasonably priced at $9.75) for a bothersome customer. The pacing of this movie is breathless (it’s like a Bugs Bunny cartoon) and it’s one of the few comedies that can legitimately claim to have a laugh virtually every minute. It’s a movie that understands how funny a single door constantly opening and closing can be, provided there is a parade of zany enough characters passing through it, all of whom possess impeccable comic timing. It’s also got a young, menacing Anthony Quinn to give it some edge, and an early Jackie Gleason to steal a couple scenes. Nearly as delightful as the king of screwball comedies "Bringing Up Baby".
S. J. Perelman, on whose play this is based, would sometimes use the nom de plume Sidney Namelrep, a silly, devil-may-care joke that is perfectly in tune with his sense of humor. He wrote some of the most outrageously funny pieces ever to appear in the New Yorker. His comedy is filled with whimsy, non sequiturs, twisted cliches, notions that seem to emerge recklessly from nowhere, scarcely masked libidinous allusions, ridiculously transparent self justifications — the kind of humor associated with the Marx Brothers. And in fact he wrote some of their best lines in (if I remember correctly) "Monkey Business" — "Hurry, my dear, my regiment leaves at dawn." His wit still can be seen through the screen of the more strict narrative line seen in this movie but because the characters need to seem reasonably sane, their range is a bit restricted. ("Mmm. Did you concoct these little tidbits?") The story itself, fortunately, is so absurd that it rolls right along, in the same league as Warners’ "All Through The Night." It’s a pretty ancient tale. Thieves getting into a store next to a bank in order to break through the wall into the vault. The first time I remember coming across it was in a Sherlock Holmes tale, "The Red Headed League," and I doubt it was original with Conan-Doyle. This is the earliest movie about such a caper that I’m aware of. But later there was "Big Deal on Madonna Street" and most recently Woody Allan’s "Small Time Crooks," which duplicated some of the incidents as well as the general idea. (The thieves break open a water pipe while digging the tunnel; the original plan fizzles out when the phony business upstairs becomes an economic bonanza.) It’s a well-done and highly entertaining comedy with the usual roster of Warners’ stalwarts at their best. The kind of movie about which you can truly say, "They don’t make ’em like that anymore." I don’t know how long it took to shoot. Not long, I imagine. New York City is nothing more than a street on the back lot and a handful of interiors. Loyd Bacon, whom no one ever proclaimed a genius, knows how to shoot a film efficienctly, the way a good car mechanic knows his business, moving the bodies around with careless ease. There isn’t a wasted motion. Every step, every opening of a door, every snarl and stutter, serves a purpose. Robinson breezes through the whole business. Jane Wyman looks cute. Broderick Crawford is dumb beyond belief. And every item of luggage in the store is "Nine seventy-five." It’s all pretty amusing.
This film never got much recognition, possibly because wartime comedies were ignored unless they had to do with the armed services or the global crisis, but it is an absolutely delightful comedy. It is reminiscent of an old Italian story called "The Crime of Don Giovanni," involving a Roman cafe owner who was jealous of a competitor next door to him, and decided to tunnel underground to steal dishes from the other restaurant’s kitchen. Robinson, Crawford, and the supporting cast are superb!