Jim Turner (Edward G. Robinson) is a gamblin’ man who hits the jackpot by winning big at the local race track — a cash-in of $20,000. But unfortunately, his luck is about to run out. That very same night, he loses all of the dough at a roulette table.
With practically nothing left to his name, Jim packs up his few belongings and heads to a boarding house run by the Mayhews — Mrs. (Emma Dunn), George (Hobart Cavanaugh), and Marge (Genevieve Tobin). Mrs. Mayhew is a stern woman who expects high morals of all of her boarders, but Marge is a little less traditional. She readily rents the room to Jim despite his gambling past.
Marge and Jim soon find themselves in love, which causes plenty of worry for Mrs. Mayhew, who fears that a marriage to a gambler will ruin her daughter’s life. Will she be right, or can Jim stay on the straight and narrow?
Alfred E. Green directs 1934’s Dark Hazard. The film was written for the screen by Ralph Block (Gambling Lady) and Brown Holmes (Ladies They Talk About).
I had moderately high hopes for Dark Hazard when I chose to watch it from WatchTCM. Edward G. Robinson and Genevieve Tobin starring, the writers of two very good Stanwyck films penning the script, and Alfred E. Green (A Lost Lady, Union Depot) at the helm… there’s a lot of talent here!
The film gets off to a slightly rocky start, moving Jim a bit too swiftly from race track to boarding house to wedded life. Eventually the pace evens out and Dark Hazard becomes a pretty interesting watch.
The essence of Dark Hazard is a tale about obsession and addiction, though the tone isn’t too grim. The focus is put on the lengths that Jim will go to in order to make excuses for his excessive gambling. He comes up short for the rent, and he blames it on his inexperience with balancing a checkbook rather than the fact that he’s been gambling. He loses money after betting on one dog, and rather than giving up betting on future races, he dreams of buying the winning dog.
Edward G. Robinson’s performance as Jim is great, as Edward G. Robinson’s performances are always great. His believability only falters in his scenes with the winning dog mentioned above, the film’s title character (portrayed by real-life champion racing dog War Cry). His feigned enthusiasm in these scenes is kind of comical, especially in one scene where he gets very excited about the dog biting his fingers.
The viewer can see through Robinson’s performance that Jim is well-intentioned — he never plans to fall back into his old ways, or to neglect his relationship with Marge in favor of his work. Despite his flaws, he’s a likable guy, and the viewer feels some sympathy for him when things go south. It’s a testament to Robinson’s talent that even though the story centers on his character’s addiction, the audience can’t help but love him.
Dark Hazard was released in 1934, and as such, falls just into the end of the pre-code era. And boy, is this ever a pre-code. Glenda Farrell makes an appearance as Jim’s saucy ex-girlfriend, Val, who hasn’t quite let go of her affection for him, even after learning he’s married. (She provides another of the film’s very good performances.) Their previous adventures together aren’t shown on-screen but there is an oft-repeated story of a dress on fire (Jim had to help her remove it, naturally) and another about a game of strip poker!
If you’re in the mood for a little pre-code drama with strong performances, Dark Hazard is worthy of your time, especially if you’re a fan of Edward G. Robinson. The score: 3.5/5