Manhattan Melodrama (1934)
“Manhattan Melodrama” is one of my all-time Gable favorites. It’s fast-paced. exciting, and yes, heavy on the drama! But it’s all good fun, and every time that I recommended this film to someone, they ended up enjoying it. The people don’t lie!
The film revolves around orphans Blackie Gallagher (Clark Gable) and Jim Wade (William Powell). Although they were raised together, they take completely opposite paths in life. Mischievous Blackie becomes a gangster and professional gambler, and studious Jim becomes district attorney, vying for the position of governor. Blackie’s girlfriend Eleanor (Myrna Loy) becomes tired of the wild life with Blackie, and instead settles down and marries Jim. Despite this, the two men remain friends. But when Blackie kills a man, their friendship becomes tested as Wade’s morals and job as D.A. tell him to send his best friend to the electric chair. Does Wade do what he feels is right, or does he save Blackie?
Obviously, the cast is terrific, and the three leads all play off each other wonderfully. Gable was, and always will be, great in the gangster role. This was also the first of fourteen pairings between Powell and Loy. Seeing their chemistry here, it is no surprise why they would make thirteen more films together (three of them being in 1934). Supporting actors like Leo Carrillo, Nat Pendleton, and George Sidney lend plenty of personality and likability to their characters, and Mickey Rooney as young Blackie in the beginning of the film is adorably and touching. (Fun fact: Rooney idolized Gable quite a bit on set, and would dress like him, act like him, and even drive a little replica of Gable’s car, much to Gable’s chagrin).
The Biograph Theater less than an hour after Dillinger’s death.
In recent years, this film has become quite famous due to the Johnny Depp film “Public Enemies,” which was a biopic of 1930s gangster and Public Enemy Number One, John Dillinger. Dillinger, a big Myrna Loy fan, was infamously shot to death by FBI agent Melvin Purvis outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago right after watching this film. Apparently, the news was used to publicize the film, much to the shock and horror of Loy. No blog post on this film would be complete without mentioning John Dillinger!
“Manhattan Melodrama” is also famous for the debut of a popular jazz standard, “Blue Moon.” However, in this movie we hear the song in its original title and lyrics, “The Bad in Every Man” by Rodgers and Hart. I must say, as much as I love “Blue Moon,” “The Bad in Every Man” is just so much more better. I can’t help but sing along to it every time I watch the film. The music in general is quite good in this film. It gets stuck in my head FOREVER.
But best of all, “Manhattan Melodrama” is an incredibly New York-ish film. Of course, being a New Yorker, I love that. It’s fast, glitzy, dramatic, complex, and just captures life in this city so well. It always gives me the shivers because it feels like I’m in a time machine, going back to that time and place that I love so much. That is the best feeling in the world, and the mark of an excellent film.