Show Them No Mercy! (1935)

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Show Them No Mercy! is a great crime film about a gang of kidnappers who make it back their abandoned country house hideout to find a cute young couple, their baby daughter and doggy have picked the place to wait out a downpour. First the gangsters–Pitch, Buzz, Gimp and Tobey (Bruce Cabot, Edward Brophy, Warren Hymer, Cesar Romero) play it cool, but when the radio gives away their secret, they keep the couple, Joe and Loretta (Edward Norris and Rochelle Hudson), hostage and debate whether to kill them.

The gangsters are thrilled with their suitcase full of unmarked ransom money ($200,000), but as the FBI tell the police and media in a press conference, they secretly replaced all the bills with ones bearing specially coded serial numbers. Nationwide, people eye their bills like lottery tickets, while the stunned gangsters now have to improvise a getaway and spending plan, and get more quarrelsome and dangerous as they do so.

Meanwhile, the young couple gets just as desperate because their baby girl has a fever. They’re initially an impossibly sweet, happy-go-lucky pair with a relentlessly positive outlook, so decent and honest that they plan to leave money for whatever they take from the well-stocked cupboard. They’re thoroughly unprepared for this ordeal but they quickly get tough, resourceful and willing to use deadly force. There’s a fantastic ending to the crisis when (spoiler) Joe distracts Pitch long enough for Loretta to grab a machine gun. It’s a shock to see a someone graphically riddled with bullets in a Code era film, but because it’s that most righteous type of violence, used by a mother protecting her child and husband (and by extension families everywhere), it’s a good moral and just outcome for the villains (I know I cheered at the sight of Loretta in that doorway).

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This story is very well told with great suspense and a few unexpected twists. The introductory scenes, with the rich family of the kidnapped boy, authentically shows the strain of waiting for news and deciding the best course of action as media and onlookers gather outside. Joe and Loretta’s cute little dog is the victim of cruelty from Pitch, but the stack of marked cash the pup chomps before escaping provides a vital clue for the Feds. The standouts to me were the four gangsters, especially Romero’s Tobey, the peacock, cool brain and possible conscience of the group. Cabot’s intimidating, unhinged Pitch scares his fellow thugs when he’s sober; after downing several bottles he staggers around the house threatening to shoot the baby. Hymer gives Gimp much heart as he frets over the baby’s well-being and turns back a watch to delay Pitch’s murder plan. Gimp also memorably visits a series of churches to launder his cash through their collection plates. Brophy’s Buzz and his vendetta with an annoying woodpecker (he calls it a buzzard, seagull and eagle) and fall through the floorboards provides some slapstick, but nothing that takes away from the gang’s real grit and menace.

Evil men like these inspired the title Show Them No Mercy! It was a simple and clear statement of the approach Edgar Hoover’s FBI would take when it came to kidnappers, and this movie, directed by George Marshall, is just as forceful, exciting and lean. Fox remade the story in 1951 as the western Rawhide with Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward.

Cliff at Immortal Ephemera has a really interesting review of the picture (where the second image in this post came from) and a piece on the real kidnapping that was the basis for the story.

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14 thoughts on “Show Them No Mercy! (1935)”

  1. Colin—–Whaddya mean never heard of it.
    I reviewed this over at Rupert Pupkin’s…and you
    commented on my post! 🙂
    I guess this is payback time for me forgetting that you
    had reviewed RAILS INTO LARAMIE.

    Yes Kristina, that end scene with Rochelle Hudson was
    really something and totally unexpected.

    For further viewing I strongly recommend
    LET ‘EM HAVE IT also starring Bruce Cabot.
    One scene which details a doomed plastic surgeon’s
    grisly act of revenge will have the faint hearted
    cowering behind the sofa.

    I’m a total sucker for thrillers from the G-Man era.

    1. You win a prize for psychic ability because I watched LET EM HAVE IT immediately after this one as a Cabot double bill, and that was even MORE nasty Cabot, lots of meat for him in that role and yes, what the doctor did to his face! I’ll review that one after my blogathon commitment post tomorrow. I love this sub-genre too, they have extra grit, some impressive profiling and detecting, and some pretty brutal violence. Thanks!

  2. This actually sounds like it could be more involving than the remake, by having a nice, average-type family get pulled into the situation. Plus, it would be more of a shocker to see Rochelle Hudson blast someone than for Susan Hayward to perform the same task (I want to see that scene! Call me bloodthirsty, but I find it most enjoyable to watch scum-of-the-earth get ventilated by Eliot Ness (aka Robert Stack) and his men on THE UNTOUCHABLES, sounds like Loretta did them proud.)

    I recall you mentioned LET ‘EM HAVE IT in Book Talk! A certain picture of Bruce Cabot made you want to see it 😉

    1. Yes I did, good memory, and the movie totally lived up to the promise of that picture. I’m with you, that was beyond satisfying to see, if only for the astonished look on his face when he realized a lady got him! Ventilated indeed. You know, I still haven’t seen the whole of Rawhide, only part of it, so maybe I will soon, to compare. Thanks!

  3. I’m pulling this one out of my stack to hopefully see very soon after your review and the conversation, Kristina! The ending sounds awesome. 🙂

    I’m very fond of RAWHIDE, and seeing the locations in Lone Pine was very special to me. Hope you enjoy when you catch it all!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    1. Yes I’ll try and get to Rawhide soonish now that this is fresh in my mind. It’ll be fun to compare them. The sight of that sweet lady blowing a gangster away really stunned me, not something you expect in ’35. Hope you enjoy!

  4. What makes this gangster film so fascinating to me is that it was based on a real kidnapping case and that the Production Code (which had just begun to be enforced the year before this film came out) wouldn’t allow the film to depict the kidnapping. Interesting to contemplate why.

    Tam

    1. Wouldn’t depict the kidnapping but showed the last shooting in all its glory, which makes sense but must have been a shocker for the audience. Also the Feds tease but don’t give away their “secret” methods of switching the money. It really is fascinating, both in telling and subject.

  5. I always like stories where characters have to face terrible experiences and come to terms with things inside them they thought were nto there.
    This sounds like a good one 🙂

    1. That’s definitely the case here, this couple is so sweet and innocent and have to survive plus set an example of good winning over heartless thugs. Thanks

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