Bill O’Brien (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) is a hustler, visiting a nightclub in search of his next victim. He sees Charles Engle (John Qualen), an embezzler in a sad state. Engle is sure that suicide is his only way out of his problems. He has until 6 o’clock the next morning to repay the money he has embezzled, or face grave consequences.
O’Brien, of course, knows none of this. Based on Engle’s clothes and attitude, he simply assumes that the man is a wealthy outsider, a “hick” on a trip to the big city. The perfect victim for a good ol’ fashioned fleecing.
At the club, Bill also meets Nina Barona (Rita Hayworth), a beautiful showgirl with dreams of stardom. She agrees to help lure Engle into a high-stakes poker game for O’Brien and game runner/gangster Dutch Enright (Ralph Theodore), and in the process finds herself falling for O’Brien.
Angels Over Broadways was written, produced, and directed by Ben Hecht.
I’d like to begin this review with a warning: If you’re the type to look up films on Wikipedia for more information, be wary of this one’s entry. The site classes Angels Over Broadway as a “film noir drama.” While the fact that crime is involved in the story may offer a hint or two of noir, this is no hard-hitting drama. It is, at best, a dark comedy… but even then, I didn’t find it very dark.
Both Rita Hayworth and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. give nice performances in this humorous tale of crime and romance. Their relationship is full of banter, not one of immediate or starry-eyed infatuation. This love/hate type of relationship is, of course, my favorite type of on-screen relationship.
He’s a smarmy, experienced swindler. She’s very sweet, reluctant to get involved in any scheme but for the easy money. Gotta love the never-works-in-real-life, “opposites attract” slow burn so often seen in screwball films and classic romantic comedies.
Hayworth’s character is a fun one, a talented dancer with dreams of becoming a big star, and a personality like bottled sunshine. She brings such a bright presence to the film, even as she becomes entangled in a gangster’s racket.
Thomas Mitchell also gives a great supporting performance in the role of Gene Gibbons, an often-inebriated playwright who becomes involved in O’Brien’s scheme with pure intentions to help Engle improve his life. He steals the show on more than one occasion, and I’d consider this performance a must-see for fans of the actor.
Angels Over Broadway may not be the most complex or memorable film, but it’s a very pleasant watch with nicely-executed performances, both lead and support. The score: 3/5