Favorite things about… Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

The favorite film:
Manhattan Melodrama, a 1934 crime drama/romance directed by W. S. Van Dyke for MGM.

(Image via cinemagia.ro)
(Image via cinemagia.ro)

The synopsis:
Blackie Gallagher and Jim Wade have been friends for years, but their lives have taken opposite paths. Blackie is a gambler and a criminal, while bookish Jim takes a job as a District Attorney and plans on running for governor. Blackie’s girlfriend, Eleanor, gets fed up with his lifestyle and decides to marry Jim, but even that can’t ruin the friendship of the two old pals. A wedge may finally be drawn between them, though, when Blackie’s crimes catch up with him and Jim has to deal with the case as D.A.

The cast:
Clark Gable as Blackie
William Powell as Jim
Myrna Loy as Eleanor
Leo Carillo as Father Joe
Nat Pendleton as Spud
Isabel Jewell as Annabelle
Jimmy Butler as young Jim
Mickey Rooney as young Blackie

Fun facts:

  • First pairing of Myrna Loy and William Powell, who would go on to make 14 films together. It’s also the only film in which Clark Gable and William Powell co-star.
  • Though W. S. Van Dyke is the film’s only credited director, George Cukor shot additional scenes for the film after the preview screening, since Van Dyke had already begun his next project.
  • The song performed by Shirley Ross in this film, “The Bad in Every Man,” was originally intended to be sung (with some different lyrics) by Jean Harlow in the film Hollywood Party. After Manhattan Melodrama‘s release, Lorenz Hart re-wrote the song again with “commercially appealing” lyrics, and it became the hit song “Blue Moon,” which would be recorded by everyone from Sinatra to The Marcels to Elvis.
  • John Dillinger watched this film just before he was shot outside of the Biograph Theater in Chicago.
  • One of MGM’s biggest and most well-received films on 1934, Manhattan Melodrama appeared on multiple “top ten of the year” lists in movie mags and newspapers.
  • Loy and Powell reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the film in 1940.
  • Three Men was one of the working titles of the film.
  • The Hays office objected to Loy’s character being seen as a gun moll or mistress, and suggested that she be written as a “sweetheart.” They also wanted Clark Gable’s line “Black for me and lace for the next guy,” in reference to a nightgown he was ordering for his girlfriend, to be cut from the film.
  • Remade in 1942 as Northwest Rangers, with the story set in Canada rather than New York.

Favorite things:

  • The curtain pulling back to reveal portraits of the actors in the opening credits
  • Mickey Rooney looking like a week-old baby! I’d forgotten that he was even in this film.
  • It’s just tragedy after tragedy for young Jim and Blackie. They survive a boat fire and are taken in by a priest, who introduces them to a man willing to take them in because he lost his own son on the boat… only for that man to be trampled to death at a political rally soon after.
  • Flipping tables and hiding things in the piano
  • Blackie puttin’ on all the charms to try to get on Eleanor’s good side when she starts talking to him about her worries.
  • Nat Pendleton (“Spud”) trying to climb up a rope ladder while carrying a huge anchor
  • Missed opportunity for a fantastic repeat screen team — Gable and Powell work incredibly well together!
  • “WADE IS HONEST” campaign banner
  • Eleanor: “Nothing like a District Attorney to keep a girl in shape! You and I must have a good wrestle someday.”
  • Even in their very first scene together, Loy and Powell are so wonderful. An opportunity may have been missed by not pairing Gable and Powell again, but I’m glad this film led Loy and Powell to work together so many times.
  • Eleanor: “Well, you see, it’s like this. Blackie sent me, Eleanor, to meet you, Jim, and to say that he was sorry, and to ask you to take me, Eleanor, to the Cotton Club. And that he, Blackie, would meet us, Eleanor and Jim, there later.”
  • The performance of “The Bad in Every Man”
  • Eleanor: “No good night kiss? Well, that proves something. I’ve been asleep all night and you’re just something I dreamed about!”
  • Eleanor responding to Blackie’s angry rant about her not being good enough for Jim by walking out on him. You go, girl!
  • Blackie: “Heeeey, everything is hotsy-totsy.”
  • Spud’s enthusiasm at the horse race
  • Powell’s powerful delivery in the court scene
  • Jim’s reaction when Blackie’s verdict comes back
  • Blackie: “Keep your chin up and your nose clean.”
  • [I didn’t take notes on the final few minutes so as not to spoil them for anyone.]
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7 thoughts on “Favorite things about… Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

  1. I’ve only ever seen this film once and I remember really enjoying it! I can’t believe that Powell and Gable weren’t paired more often on-screen because they had wonderful chemistry together in Manhattan Melodrama. A shame, really.

    Like

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