"Now don't forget: classy and schmaltzy!"
Bloodhounds of Broadway is a 1952 musical based on the stories of Damon Runyon, whose work also inspired Guys and Dolls. Like its better-known sibling, Bloodhounds concerns itself with the New York underworld, the thieves and the gamblers and the showgirls that provided the city with glamorous myths birthed during Prohibition and the Roaring '20s. These are toothless gangsters with funny nicknames and snappy patter in place of violent outbursts and itchy trigger fingers. They're really good guys, the scamps!
Directed by Harmon Jones (As Young as You Feel), this New York story begins with the hoods getting out of New York. Numbers Foster (Scott Brady) takes his gang down to Florida to avoid having to testify before an organized crime probe, letting his dancehall girlfriend Yvonne (Marguerite Chapman) perjure herself to take the heat off. On the way back to town, Numbers and his peptic sidekick Poorly Sammis (Wally Vernon) take an accidental detour into the backwoods of Georgia. There they meet Emily Ann (Mitzi Gaynor) and her two bloodhounds, Nip and Tuck. Emily Ann charms them with her hospitality and her lovely singing voice, and the fellas take her and her dogs along to show them the wonders of the Big Apple.
Once the gang is back in New York, Emily Ann begins to impress even the most skeptical of Broadway snobs, but she also catches the wrong kind of attention from Yvonne. The jealous dame can see that Numbers and Emily Ann have some kind of romance smoldering between them, and she tells Numbers that he needs to send the pretty yokel packing or she'll starting singing to the new crime committee, headed up by Numbers' former school chum Inspector McNamara (Michael O'Shea). Will she or won't she? Will he or won't he? Will they or won't they? If they kiss, she tells, simple as that.
Though lacking the stylistic pizzazz of Guys and Dolls or even Howard Brookner's 1989 non-musical Bloodhounds, this production still has a lot of glitz on hand. Almost all of it comes from Mitzi Gaynor, who performs in all but one of the musical numbers and quickly outstrips both of her major dance partners, Mitzi Green and Richard Allan. The only one who gives her a run for her money is the grammar school-aged Sharon Baird, who joins Gaynor in her rundown shack for a spirited tap dance through "Cindy." Part hoedown, part traditional number, choreographer Robert Sidney has fun manipulating the pace of the music, using the faults of Emily Ann's old-time victrola to speed the girls up, slow them down, and even get them stuck on a spot when the record skips.
Gaynor is a captivating actress with lots of personality. She doesn't have to force Emily Ann's perky, good-natured attitude, but sells it with her big smile and sparkling eyes. She's got a big voice and great gams, and she really knows how to hoof it. The musical perfomances are big and colorful, especially the card-themed finale "Jack of Diamonds." There is also one romantic, sentimental tune, the slow on-stage duet between Gaynor and Allan, "I Wish I Knew," in which Emily Ann enacts all of her longing for Numbers.
As far as the big musicals of the era go, Bloodhounds of Broadway is probably more average than great, but it's still a hoot to watch. As a fan of gangster pictures, I enjoy seeing the criminal heavies in a more light-hearted setting. For a bright and shiny piece of movie history, you can certainly do worse than Bloodhounds of Broadway. It's a dare-you-not-to-smile good time.
The fullscreen (1.33:1) DVD transfer of Bloodhounds of Broadway is as colorful and poppy as it's supposed to be. I only noticed a couple of stray specks on the image throughout the whole movie, and only the occasional hint of softness in the resolution. The restoration job here is excellent.
The original English audio soundtrack is mixed in Dolby Digital with an ear toward preserving its original mono qualities. The levels are nicely balanced, with the music playing boldly and loudly, and yet also the proper atmosphere for non-musical scenes. I didn't notice any problems whatsoever with the soundtrack.
There are also subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
As with the other movies in Fox's Marquee Musicals series, there are many bonus features on Bloodhounds of Broadway, extending beyond the DVD and to the special packaging. The disc comes in a standard plastic case, but it's sheathed in a sturdy slipcase with a glossy finish. Inside the box is a trifold, full-color insert with liner notes featuring facts and trivia about the movie, as well as an envelope with four postcard-sized reproductions of the original lobby cards for the film. (Though, why seal the insert with rubber cement, making it hard to open without crinkling or ripping the booklet?)
There are multiple video extras on Bloodhounds, and these include a comparison of the restoration versus older prints, the film's original trailer, and stills galleries with posters, lobby cards, and photographs, alongside an interactive reproduction of the vintage pressbook.
"A New York State of Mind: Written by Damon Runyon" (13 minutes, 30 seconds) gives a history of Runyon and his work, and experts on his stories discuss how their qualities are captured in Bloodhounds of Broadway, but also how the film deviates.
"Mitzi Gaynor: Impressions of the Fox Years" (17:00) catches up with the actress, now in her 70s but still vivacious and charming, and she talks about her rather short career in motion pictures (she made only eighteen films between 1949 and 1963), including working with Ethel Merman, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra.
"Dancing as Fast as She Can: A Conversation with Sharon Baird" (9:50) tracks down the little girl who danced with Mitzi Gaynor in the "Cindy" number. She was only 9 years old at the time, and afterwards, became an original Mouseketeer.
The great thing about old movies is that if they are your cup of tea, most of them will satisfy you in some way. While Harmon Jones' Damon Runyon adaptation, Bloodhounds of Broadway, isn't necessarily a classic of the musical genre, it is a pleasantly entertaining riff on the gangster picture. Thanks to a powerhouse performance by the perky and sweet Mitzi Gaynor, the movie manages to be just a cut above the average studio vehicle, and is thus Recommended. Kudos to the Fox Marquee Musicals series, as well, for really lovely packaging and smartly chosen extras.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.