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Manhattan Melodrama

Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

May. 04,1934
| Drama Crime Romance

The friendship between two orphans endures even though they grow up on opposite sides of the law and fall in love with the same woman.


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This is a well-acted movie. Gable in particular is at his finest, as you can see most notably in his last scene, the prison cell, before he is led to the electric chair. The difference between his noble refusal to live imprisoned rather than to get it all over with as soon as possible and Powell's presentation of the governor as weak makes Gable look that much more charismatic.But what I found strange here was Myrna Loy's character's efforts to get her husband the governor to pardon Blackie. She knows that Blackie has killed a man - she doesn't seem to know that it was in self-defense. And yet she begs her husband to forget his scruples and pardon Blackie. That's hard to take, and would certainly make me suspect she is still in love with Blackie if I were in the governor's very uncomfortable shoes.The scene in the prison cell with Gable and Powell is wonderfully acted and beautifully photographed. The acting here is of a high level. But the moral issues in this movie are at best very problematic.


After seeing this one for the first time, I wonder how the entire public missed a great film.Clark Gable played a killer named Blackie in this one. William Powell is excellent in this playing a District Attorney then elected New York Governor. Myrna Loy is the woman between both of them.After watching Powell and Loy in the Thin Man movies, this film is a guilty sin of pleasure watching them getting involved in a triangle with Clark Gable. This was MGM in a moment when the studio was delivering great films as the 1930's were full of hits by the studio.That might be the reason this one is over looked. After all, Gable would be Blackie again in a move about the San Francisco earth quake. But this Blackie has more of an edge. He is a ruthless killer with no remorse and yet a friend of the man to bring him to justice.Powell proves here he is more than a Thin Man.


In black and white for everyone to see.A gangster movie starring Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy, thankfully I was not disappointed. Watching these three titans of classic Hollywood in action (and sadly the only picture in which Gable and Powell appeared together), Manhattan Melodrama not only had me enthralled from beginning to end, its hypnotizingly good. Gangsters, dames, urbanites, class and sophistication, this movie encompasses elements of 1930's cinema which I'm a sucker for - and yes, the film has the word melodrama in the title, something that would never happen in contemporary cinema.The Angels With Dirty Faces style plot allows for poignant social commentary, with Powell as a district attorney trying to avoid corruption and not allowing his personal feelings affect his decisions. William Powell's performance as Jim Wade is the best I've seen him deliver; just listen to the emotional plea he gives during the movie's courtroom scene. His character is essentially a fantasy, an elected member of government who's entirely honest. When Wade goes against his ethics and engages in cronyism he tells the truth to the public and resigns from office rather than trying to desperately cling onto power. There's doubt Powell had a real knack for playing lawyers and elected members of office. Not to undo Gable as Blackie Gallagher, the manner in which he acts during the film's final third is simply heartbreaking as he constantly jokes around despite being sentenced to the electric chair in the film's finale. The ending of this movie just kills me as Wade's friend since childhood is sentenced to death; it's near the top of my list of all time tear jerking scenes, pure cinematic tragedy. The lights of prison even dim as the switch is pulled, the ever classic cliché. In real life that doesn't actually happen but in the film it is the final tug of the heart strings. Also it seems hard to believe now that Mickey Rooney would play a child version of Clark Gable but in 1934 audiences couldn't have seen what he would turn out to be as an adult.Does there exist an actress who doesn't have great chemistry with Clark Gable, or even any actor for that matter? Manhattan Melodrama is the first of fourteen screen pairings of Powell and Loy, and their first scene together couldn't be more perfect, in which she falls into his lap in the back seat of a car as she starts to deliver exposition in the most adorable manner.MGM is not generally associated with the gangster genre. Manhattan Melodrama doesn't have the grit of Warner Gangster films but works in its own style of MGM's glossy high production values and ranks as one of the best gangster films I've seen from the 1930's. The movie seems to be more famous for being the last movie seen by gangster John Dillinger, who was shot by federal agents as he exited a Chicago movie theater. His reason for going to see the movie, apparently he was a Myrna Loy fan. The love of Loy killed John Dillinger, I guess I can't blame him.


Yes, this is a melodrama all right. Two boys of very different backgrounds are orphaned when a pleasure steamer catches fire and sinks in the Hudson River near New York in 1902. One boy (Mickey Rooney) is a rough and tumble type, while the other is bookish and thoughtful. They are both briefly adopted together by a man who lost his son in the same disaster. They grow up together and then go their separate ways. The rough one, 'Blackie', becomes a criminal and is played by Clarke Gable. The bookish one becomes a lawyer and criminal prosecutor, played by William Powell. Blackie has a girlfriend, played by Myrna Loy, who leaves him for Powell. What is so especially fascinating about this film is that Myrna Loy and Clark Gable do not 'click' at all, and glaze over when they look at one another, despite their best acting efforts to simulate at least some flickers of passion. But as soon as Powell and Loy are on screen together, the fizz begins, and they spark off one another like two cheeky little flints who just can't wait to make wonderful fire together. Powell seems to have been an irresistibly amusing man who was attractive to all the most glamorous gals, despite not being all that good-looking. After all, he was married to Carole Lombard and then was about to marry Jean Harlow when she died tragically. (He paid $30,000 for her funeral and took six weeks off filming with Myrna Loy in another picture because of his uncontrollable grief.) So Powell certainly knew how to interact with women of character. Myrna Loy just had the right kind of wry and whimsical manner to complement the dry humour of Powell. From the moment they first look at each other in this first film together, a unique screen magic was born, and lasted through 14 films. When I knew her very slightly as a youngster, she was 57 and rather uncommunicative, and she seemed depressed, so I never knew the 'lively Loy'. In those days videos and DVDs did not exist, so few people of my age had any idea at all of what she had been like in her films with William Powell, as we had not only never seen any of them but had no way of doing so. Nor was there any internet with a handy IMDb database where you just click your mouse and see the list of her credits. The fact is, Myrna Loy was someone one knew had been a big movie star earlier on, but one had never actually seen her on screen. She was just a name, and someone who had been in films which one's parents had seen before one was born. Well, now we can see them and so many of them are good that we can at last see Myrna Loy in perspective and appreciate just how unique and special she really was. There is a curious thing, namely that her real name was Myrna Williams and she came from Montana. Now who does that remind you of? Why, Michelle Williams of course, who comes from Montana (see my reviews of LAND OF PLENTY and INCENDIARY, where I note that this girl is an actress of genius). I wonder if they could possibly be Montana kith and kin. But I guess the world is full of people named Williams, even in Montana, which has a population of just a few thousand people and a few million cattle, doesn't it? It seems that everywhere you go, there are people named Wiliams. Perhaps it is because they are plural. Oh, back to the story. I always forget the story. Well, you can see it coming, can't you? Powell ends up prosecuting Gable for murder and demands the death sentence. That part of the story is heavily contrived, but it works very well regardless because after all it is a 1930s movie. Loy is distressed because she loves them both. You can see where the melodrama comes in, and they really lay it on, as this is not a film where subtlety is a leading quality. We get the whole thing, death row, the last minute requests for a reprieve (oh yes, Powell is Governor of New York by now and is the one who gets begged to save Blackie's life). Well the melodrama just keeps piling on top of the melodrama like that, so that the film is really a kind of melodramatic club sandwich. There is some cheese and then there's some ham (in fact there is no shortage of ham in this film) and then there's some chicken when certain persons lose their courage and then there's some lettuce to brighten and pretty things up a bit, and then there's the daily bread, it's all there. Take a bite, it's really delicious.