“College man, banker’s son, now a mobster” was the tagline for this movie, a great sum of the story of wealthy Ivy League rower Bob Cain Jr. (Tyrone Power) rejecting his stockbroker father Bob Sr. (Edward Arnold) when the old man is convicted of embezzling. Try as he might to distance himself from the Cain name, Junior has trouble finding a job and starts to resent fickle family friends who got rich off his dad’s work but now turn their backs on the Cains. Junior then plots to get his father out of prison, and to that end he assumes the name Johnny Apollo and joins gangster Mickey Dwyer (Lloyd Nolan) and his circle of underworld allies, including caring nightclub singer Lucky (Dorothy Lamour) and lovable, Shakespeare-quoting, scotch-and-milk swilling mob lawyer Judge Brennan (Charlie Grapewin).
I really enjoy this movie and every time I watch it I find more to love about it. It’s a smart and stylish mix of gangster/musical glamour and often called an early example of noir style. There are so many nice images and moments, like the long walks down shadowy prison halls, the heartbreaking father-son argument at the glorious Cain mansion, a sort of noirish “meet cute” for our couple in the dingy stairwell outside the Judge’s office/apartment, and the Judge’s amazing library inside (with plenty of booze hiding spots). Director Henry Hathaway stages many striking scenes like the one at Bob Sr.’s sentencing, when Junior stands in court as the crowd parts and clears out, or the glitzy nightclub parts where everyone is dressed to the nines and polished like piano black and patent leather.
Cain Jr. and Sr., have a loving but broken relationship and the story tracks their rejection and acceptance of each other’s “careers,” virtues and sins by the way they deal with their names and roles. Bob Jr. changes his name twice, first to the common Thomas, so he can start over, but that backfires when his boss finds out who he really is, tells him he’s a coward, and fires him. When Bob connects with Lucky and Mickey, he picks the showier name Apollo just because he spots it on a neon sign out the window. Bob Jr. says “I have no father” when he discovers pop’s crimes, and then that’s mirrored when Bob Sr. finds out his son is mingling with gangsters and says, “I have no son.” When Junior lands in the clink with his father, they have a great exchange about their identities in the prison job assignment line, and by the end everything depends on Junior being recognized as his father’s son, and proudly reclaiming the name Bob Cain.
This was one of the first chances Power got to prove he was good at darker, more complex drama, played it understated and as charming, stubborn, hurt and idealistic as the part required. He’s also supported by such a fine cast. Edward Arnold is convincingly concerned and guilty about the shame he’s brought on his son, proud enough to defend the cushy life he’s provided as a single father through years of hard work, and deeply hurt when Junior calls him a worthless crook. You’ve got your colourful gangster henchmen in Marc Lawrence and Tony Caruso, and Lloyd Nolan almost steals the show by being such a fascinating and genial guy, an admirer of Bob Sr.’s unmatched work ethic, a caring buddy who finds a steak to press to Junior’s black eye, and a cold-blooded murderer who offs Brennan with an icepick at the Turkish bath. Another nice bit of casting is that photo on the wall of Tyrone Power’s real mother “playing” the late Mrs. Cain.
Lamour got the part of the sassy nightclub singer with a heart of gold after the studio considered Linda Darnell, Nancy Kelly, and Alice Faye. Easy to imagine those ladies in this type of role, but Lamour brings something really special, something sad, sultry and sweet to this movie, and her performance makes me wish she did many more noir and crime pictures. Her Lucky is genuine but guarded, with a weary disillusioned streetwise charm. The movie’s ads teased that “only the girl guessed what was in his embittered heart.” She fell in love with the nice, handsome man sitting with her on the stairs and wishing on the first robin of spring, before she knows him as either Cain or Apollo. She knows right then that he’d never done an illegal thing in his life, was soemone wroth improving herself for, and felt responsible for letting him cross into her mob circles. She and Brennan are good souls who realize they may never break free of Mickey but give their all to help Johnny out. Lamour has some fantastic scenes, including one where she visits Bob Sr. in prison, sets him straight about Junior, and urges him to drop grudges and assumptions keeping him from a reunion with his son. She selflessly brings the Cains back together, assuming she’ll never end up with Junior, but she’s rewarded with a happy ending.
This post is part of the Dorothy Lamour blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Font and Frock/ A Small Press Life. Please check it out to enjoy all the love for Lamour.