Crime drama with James Cagney, Victor Jory, and Joan Blondell. Cagney is (of course) the criminal in the limelight here, ex-safecracker Flicker Hayes, aka Jerry Allen. Out of the clink, he’s trying to go straight. Thanks to mob informer Pops (Frank Craven) Flicker’s got hit-men Ward and Monk (Harold Huber and Russell Horton) on his tail. If that’s not enough, Flicker’s in one corner of a love triangle brewing with Joan Blondell (who plays Rose), and her fiancee, fisherman Nick Gardella (Jory).
In a very noir-ish New York City joint, we hear “Thirty G’s on the line!” from the gangsters. No, Flicker wants an advance from the ‘job’s’ $100k payoff; they settle on $15k. This is a deal for “junk and nose candy” (didn’t know ‘nose candy’=cocaine was slang from that far back). I like that we’re in the middle of the mayhem right off. Flicker plays his cards on cue–his wild card, rather–he sets up the gangsters doing the drug heist. The mastermind kills a cop; bad karma for Flicker.
So, we’re on the run to San Francisco; Flicker reinvents himself as Jerry Allen. He inquires about sailing for China–but, gee, he’s not going to wait three days (!) for a passport. Anyway, Rose–who had gotten nabbed for something unexplained (prostitution?)– enters his room for a wedding dress she left there.
“I’m flat” she admits, that is, broke, and just out of jail. I can see an offer coming from Flicker. Over dinner, they become acquainted. She admits that Flicker soon “gets under my skin,” as he’s so nice to her. Naturally, and perhaps hedging his bets, he offers her dough to catch the bus down the coast to meet up with Nick–they both go.
Strangely, Nick’s not there at the local bus stop to meet her. At a cafe, they find a guy Dutch (John Qualen) who will take them to Nick at ‘Santa Avila.’ Nick’s mom (Sarah Padden) is there, very happy to meet Rose, etc. It’s weird how Flicker wants to hang around; Rose wonders too. Mom is clueless, welcoming him as Roses ‘friend,’ but Rose is pissed.
Shazam! Nick comes home: awkward meeting with Jerry/Flicker, including pregnant pauses. Strangely, Nick offers to take Jerry fishing. Jerry continues messing with Rose “Now there’s a dame for you…just for that don’t kiss me.”
She seems a tad reluctant about Nick; meanwhile, Jerry is buttering up mom. Uh, oh, now Pops shows up on the dock, (having used a hotel contact back in S.F. to tail Flicker); he’s faking like he wants to fish too. Meaning he probably wants Jerry to ‘sleep with the fishes’. Jerry’s not so dumb, though, and counts himself out; but so does Pops. What’s worse for Jerry is that he has to bunk with Pops.
Pops doesn’t waste time finding Jerry’s gun. Jerry, however, is rummaging around in the main house, continuing to bug Rose. Surprisingly, she “doesn’t want to double-cross myself” with Nick; that is, deceive him about her past. She agrees to go off with Jerry. That’s not a complete surprise, but it still seems weird. She wants to at least tell Nick what’s going down.
With a festival in full swing, she waits for Nick; Meanwhile, Jerry arranges with Dutch to take them to the station so the happy(?) couple can split. And here’s Pops, who tells his boys what’s happening with Jerry/Flicker. Finally, Nick comes home and talks to Jerry. Slyly, Jerry tells Nick that he’s leaving because he’s “mixed up with a woman.” But is he actually planning to leave Rose in the dark?
“I’ve got his rod” affirms Pops as he discusses business with Monk and Ward. (Cool, a slot machine at a cafe). Stupidly, they rough up the clerk over the machine. Finally, Rose and Nick meet up. He doesn’t really let her talk, though. She doesn’t get her message out. Will she leave him at the altar?
The goons come calling, pretending to be friends of Jerry’s. “We’ll wait outside.” Great. “Make her talk, and give the heat to both of them.” The driver goes back to the diner, and, finding Jerry, the scared kid spills the beans about the hoods. Back at the bus stop, the bus waiting, Jerry equivacates about leaving. He stays, and goes back to the house. Ok, so he gets nabbed by the hoods…He tells them Rose doesn’t know anything about anything.
He tells her he “has business with these boys” and can’t take her. I’m thinking the “boys” are about to get their comeuppance. “You don’t want to take me with you anyway, do you, Jerry?” He agrees, reluctantly. At least the hoods believe she’s ok. Here comes Nick and mom. Maybe she suspects something, because the others agree to get their forgotten ice cream (mom’s very convincing).
Only now does Rose tell Nick her deal with Jerry. At a beautiful overlook Jerry figures he’ll get shot. Meanwhile, the wedding goes as planned. The church ceremony is the last scene.
This was much more intriguing than I expected. Cagney, Jory, and Blondell each give convincing performances. The romantic plot is sifted seamlessly with the gangster element. Cagney has that assured, but jittery persona that allows him to be posing with Rose and still win her away from Jory (at least until the denouement).
And, we never really know which way the wind’s blowing until the very end. The suspense, therefore, continues to simmer: one aspect of the plot depends on the other, despite the fact that it’s only coincidental that Jerry/Flicker stirs things up for Rose and Nick. Of course, it’s mutual attraction gets them together; more or less throwing a monkey wrench into the wedding plans from the beginning.
Both Jerry and Rose fear commitment, but for different reasons. Nick is less complicated, but he inadvertently helps bring the other two together. The hoods are one-dimensional types, but that’s fine; the principle characters have enough going on to more than sustain our interest.
Fittingly, for a short movie, the pacing is snappy. On the surface of it, Rose seems wishy-washy, but given her background, she has to be opportunistic. Things shake out well for her, but, perhaps foreshadowing the noir films of the following decade, not everyone gets what they want. In fact, Flicker’s death is so taken for granted that the expected shooting isn’t even shown; what’s important is that he nobly accepts his fate (that another film noir touch).
Farmermouse was itching and scratching for a ride from San Diego to Seattle on that Pierce Arrow bus–especially if there’s slot machines at every stop. 8/10 jackpots.