“Instead of the glorification of cowardly gangsters, we need the glorification of policemen who do their duty and give their lives in public protection. If the police had the vigilant, universal backing of public opinion in their communities, if they had the implacable support of the prosecuting authorities and the courts — I am convinced that our police would stamp out the excessive crime — which has disgraced some of our great cities.” -President Herbert Hoover
With this quote, 1932’s The Beast of the City begins before launching into the police action of the night. Emergency calls are taken and units are dispatched to small cases, like that of a lost child and a case of public nudity…
…until they’re called to the scene of a multiple murder. Four bodies have been discovered, and they’re the bodies of notorious gangsters.
The investigation is led by Captain Jim Fitzpatrick (Walter Huston). He immediately suspects a mobster named Sam Belmonte (Jean Hersholt) and arrests Belmonte at his club on suspicion of murder. Belmonte is, in fact, responsible for the deaths, but he’s got a very good lawyer and a whole lot of money, so he’s released quickly.
Struggling to bring justice in the case, Jim frequently butts heads with the Chief of Police (Emmett Corrigan). He and his brother Ed (Wallace Ford), a vice officer, are determined to prove Belmonte’s guilt, so they continue collecting information on the mobster. This investigation includes interviewing Belmonte’s beautiful stenographer, Daisy (Jean Harlow), who takes a liking to Ed.
The Beast of the City was directed by Charles Brabin and distributed by MGM.
The Beast of the City is a pretty good crime drama. It doesn’t pack quite as much punch as a Cagney or Robinson vehicle, but it’s a solid piece of work and it has its fair share of grit.
In terms of acting, Jean Harlow predictably stands out in her performance as Daisy. Harlow is one of those actresses I’ll watch in any film, due to her magnetic screen presence.
One interesting thing about the film is that it is told from the police perspective, rather than making the central character a smarmy gangster. Taking on the law as the central focus is not unheard of in crime films, but it is somewhat unusual in comparison to the more popular flicks of the early ’30s.
I wouldn’t necessarily add The Beast of the City to my list of all-time favorite crime dramas, but it’s not a bad watch at all. Give it a look if you’re into this genre. The score: 3.5/5