Johnny Lorgen (Tom Drake) has just arrived at a prison honor farm where he’ll be serving time for a robbery he took part in. When he starts a fight with Jim Breedin (Wallace Beery), a long-time veteran of the farm, Johnny gets knocked out pretty quickly. Jim, by beating Johnny, earns his respect and tries to help him reform.
Jim is soon offered $250,000 for his farm in Oklahoma by an oil company. His daughter, Nora, has been taking care of the place, but unbeknownst to Jim was killed in a car accident some time ago. He takes the deal with the oil company, and the company’s representative promises to search for Nora.
Jim, knowing he’ll be well-off financially upon his release, dedicates himself to becoming a gentleman and learning proper etiquette. But when he does get released, his old pals from the world of crime come calling, one of them (Leon Ames) enlisting his girlfriend (Dorothy Patrick) to pose as Nora.
Alias a Gentleman (1948) was directed by Harry Beaumont. Making appearances alongside Drake, Beery, Ames and Patrick are Gladys George as Madge and John Qualen as Jim’s prisoner pal “No End.”
Wallace Beery is incredibly lovable in this film. His character is a bit simple-minded, but very well-intentioned. He’s dedicated to bettering himself and becoming an upstanding citizen. He doesn’t try to run from his past, though: at one point he tells a fellow prisoner that he isn’t reforming, just retiring. The character is interesting, and Beery’s performance is good.
The dialogue is also pretty well-written for Beery. He’s given a few tongue-twisters and witty lines, plus there’s some humor to be had in his character’s misunderstandings of certain things (like how he thinks “gauchos” are an animal hunted in South America). He’s even got his own tagline: “Very de rigueur!”
Dorothy Patrick is quite impressive as well. I hadn’t seen much of her before, having only reviewed House by the River from her filmography. I liked her a lot here, as Elaine/fake-Nora.
The performances are solid, and the story is pretty interesting, too. It puts a few twists on the usual “ex-con getting mixed up with crime again” tale by throwing in a love story between Elaine and Johnny, as well as focusing on Jim’s determination to stay “straight” and his protectiveness of the woman he believes to be his daughter. The fact that Elaine comes to truly care for Jim, who she originally intended to scam, adds an interesting element to the story as well. She was targeting Jim, so the viewer shouldn’t like her, but sympathy can be felt for both characters.
Alias a Gentleman does move along a bit slowly and feel slightly longer than its run-time, but overall, it’s a pretty good watch. As an exploration of Beery’s character post-prison release, this film could have easily taken an ultra-typical route. But the additional story elements and the touch of humor scripted into Beery’s character make for something much more unique. I enjoyed this one quite a bit. The score: 4/5