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"How do you want this, in the belly or the back?"
on December 9, 2005
From Sony's Gangsters, Guns & Floozies Crime Collection comes the film Let `Em Have It (1935), directed by Sam Wood (A Night at the Opera, Goodbye, Mr. Chips), one of the two unaccredited directors to work on the 1939 film Gone with the Wind (the other was George Cukor). Appearing in this film is Richard Arlen (The Virginian, Helldorado), Virginia Bruce (Jane Eyre, The Invisible Woman), one of the 20 original 'Goldwyn Girls', and Bruce Cabot (King Kong, The Last of the Mohicans). Also appearing is Alice Brady (Mr. Dodd Takes the Air), Harvey Stephens (All American Chump), Eric Linden (The Robin Hood of El Dorado), and Gordon Jones ("The Abbott and Costello Show"), who played the Green Hornet in the 1940 serial of the same name. Also, keep an eye out for Jonathan Hale, in the role of Bill, the microscope expert, in a bit part. He seemed familiar (especially his distinctive voice), but I couldn't place his face until I remembered he played Dagwood Bumstead's boss J.C. Dithers in the Blondie movies of the late 1930s and 1940s.
Blazing headlines flash across the screen! `rime Wave Shocks The Nation' (I think it was meant to say `Crime Wave Shocks The Nation' but the C was cut off), `Torture Fiends Burn Victim', and so on...seems America is suffering a terrible epidemic as criminals run rampant, driving politicians to allot greater funding towards gooberment law enforcement institutions, and subsequently, thousands of citizens jump at the opportunity to suckle from Uncle Sam's sweet teat signing up to become G-Men, T-Men, and J-Men (actually, I don't think the term `J-Men' was used, as they were probably just referred to as the more general G-Men, but I'm using it in reference to someone working for The Justice Department). Anyway, we're soon following three recent recruits, Mal Stevens (Arlen), Van Rensseler (Stephens), and Tex Logan (Jones) through their training, on their way to becoming agents for law and order. The trio makes it through, and during their first assignment, they foil a kidnapping attempt on wealthy socialite Eleanor Spencer (Bruce), one participated in by her scheming chauffeur Joe Keefer (Cabot). Keefer's acquitted of any involvement in the plot (lack of evidence), but he is convicted on the charge of carrying a gun and sent to the can for a three-spot, despite Eleanor's protests (she naively believes he had nothing to do with the attempted abduction). A year passes and Keefer does get paroled (with Eleanor's help), eventually breaking some of his cronies out of the pen and soon starts a crime wave, robbing, murdering, and other sorts of naughty things (Keefer even gets himself a moll named Lola), with Stevens and his partners hot on the trail, utilizing all the investigative resources of the gooberment. Things finally come to a head when the slippery Keefer, who suffered a doozy of a botched face job (his mug was too widely known), and his gang is cornered as Stevens (it's since become somewhat personal) and the authorities close in...
This was one of the great number of crime dramas to come out in the 1930s as America's interest in criminals and their illicit activities flourished. Crime was at an all time high, following the recent crash of the stock market and prohibition, and J. Edgar Hoover was busy bolstering his organization (which would be renamed the FBI the same year as this film was released), developing new and different techniques, including use of the media, to assist in capture of dangerous criminals. I enjoyed this film a lot, despite its predictability, particularly in the subplots involving the romance between Mal and Eleanor and Eleanor's brother Buddy, idolizing Mal, wanting to join the justice department. The movie is thoroughly enjoyable effort, and features interesting detail with regards to investigation techniques utilized by authorities at the time in their never-ending quest to solve crimes and capture criminals. The direction by Wood is strong, as there's a continual sense of forward movement. The pacing was intermediate to brisk throughout, as equal time was given to both the criminal organization (Keefer developed quite the gang) and the law enforcement aspects. The performances were all pretty solid, assisted by some snappy dialog, with Cabot standing out slightly as Keefer (the villainous characters generally tend to be more noticeable in films like this). We follow him from his humble beginnings as a funky informant/accomplice in a kidnapping gang to ruthless leader of his own mob. Cabot was instantly recognizable to me given his hero role as John 'Jack' Driscoll in the 1939 film King Kong (which, incidentally, has finally been released onto DVD, as I write this). Stevens does well as the hero type (not overly goodie goodie), and given presence and attractive features, I was surprised he wasn't a bigger star than he was...Virginia Bruce was attractive, but her role was limited to that a plot device rather than a real character. I didn't care much for her character at any point in the film as she seemed like a very naïve, annoying, richy rich debutante type used to getting her own way. I think my favorite scene in the movie was near the end, after Keefer solicited the services of a specialist to change his highly recognizable face as to allow him to escape capture by the swarming authorities. The good doctor ended up pulling a fast one, something that Keefer only discovered days later after he removed the bandages (nothing like a little creative plastic surgery to make ones day). The expressions on Keefer's associate's faces was priceless, as they tried to hide their disgust, some even commenting how `it didn't look that bad' (Keefer was actually quite handsome prior the procedure). All in all a solid feature, one worth checking out if you have a fondness for early American crime dramas.
The fullscreen picture presentation on this Sony DVD leaves something to be desired. The picture is decent, but I believe it could be a lot better. There is some speckling present throughout, and it appears the film may have not been completely centered during the transfer process as the left side is slightly cut off (watch the credits at the end for a good example of this). The Dolby Digital mono audio comes through clearly. There are no extras, but there are chapter stops. The movie itself deserves a four star rating, but given the quality on the DVD is lacking, this release gets three stars.