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Good news from the 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives -- this delightful Fox Pre-Code picture has been beautifully remastered. We've yet to see much of the presumed Pre-Code riches from the Fox, Paramount and Columbia studios. If more like the 1932 Me and My Gal are ready to be released, by all means bring them on.
Director Raoul Walsh and an expert cast give us eighty minutes of fun and excitement down on the New York docks, where the men are 57 varieties of goofy and the dames look a guy straight in the eye. The script by Arthur Kober, Philip Klein and Barry Conners contains plenty of slapstick antics but also a fair helping of clever, sassy dialogue, some of which will send a viewer to the reference pages. Most old movie fans have heard the interjection "Jake!" before, but "Bezark" was a first for this critic. Although nobody wears outrageous costumes and their behaviors aren't patently absurd, the dockside atmosphere of Me and My Gal reminds one of Segar's original Popeye cartoon strip. The leading lady even moves a bit like Olive Oyl -- when she tunes the radio to a Latin song, she swings her bottom to and fro to the music before standing up straight to dance.
Wisecracking cop Danny Dolan (Spencer Tracy) keeps order on the docks, saving a dog, chasing away kids (when not encouraging them to fight) and doing his best to curb the antics of the local drunk. For rescuing said drunk from drowning, he's promoted to detective. Danny meets Helen Riley (Joan Bennett), a diner cashier who chews gum and talks back when he makes with the smart remarks. Helen's sister Kate (Marion Burns) holds a noisy reception after her marriage to the slightly horse-faced ship's officer Eddie Collins (George Chandler), and when Danny is dispatched to quiet things down he meets their father, tugboat captain Pop Riley (J. Farrell MacDonald). With Eddie gone to sea, Kate is left alone with Eddie's father Sarge (Henry B. Walthal), a paralyzed WW1 casualty who communicates with Eddie only by blinking his eyes. Danny continues his somewhat crude courtship, bringing Helen gifts obviously purchased with the 'policeman's discount'. Local thug Duke Casteñega (George Walsh) breaks out of prison, murders a guard and pulls off a big robbery with his sinister brother Baby Face (Noel Madison). Danny is ordered to find and arrest the crooks, but is unaware that Kate is still carrying on an affair with Duke, who is hiding in her attic. Sarge knows Duke is there, but has no way of telling anyone.
With Raoul Walsh's relaxed direction and the unforced acting of Spencer Tracy, Me and My Gal feels too natural to be completely scripted. After his promotion, Danny goes to buy a new hat and gets so excited that he takes a liking to the one he walked in with. The salesman is delighted: "That's the first time I ever sold a guy his own hat!" The humor is pretty basic at times, what with gravel voiced Frank Moran making a running gag out of spitting in the eye of the dock drunk. But even the drunk is given funny lines (approx):
Diner owner: "Who's gonna pay for your food?"
The fun includes a moronic detective (Bert Hanlon) who parrots everything Danny says. A fast talking radio salesman buries Pop Riley and Helen in an avalanche of words. Pop, a very big man, makes a pained face whenever Danny gives him a hand-crunching handshake. Calling for more beer at the party, Pop steps into a ridiculously close close-up to give a hearty laugh. Raoul Walsh would strain this gag in his later Gentleman Jim.
Finally alone together in the apartment finally, Danny maneuvers Helen onto the sofa to make out. They mention that show they just saw, "Strange Innertube" or something, where the actors talk, and then the audience hears their secret thoughts as voiceovers. Helen and Danny then trade carefully chosen endearments, which are immediately followed by sarcastic voiceovers indicating what's really on their mind. "What if your father should walk in and see us now?" wonders Danny, followed by Helen's 'ghost voice': "They'll have to give him ether to remove father's foot from up his..." That particular anatomical image crops up not once but three times in the film's comic dialogue.
A lot happens in Me and My Gal. The robbery is carried off just like the one in Rififi, with the crooks drilling through a ceiling to reach their treasure. It also has the original instance of the gag cribbed by Martin Scorsese for his remake of Cape Fear -- Duke makes his daring escape by strapping himself to the underside of a prison vehicle. In another original, clever scene Danny proves his mettle as a detective by finding a way to communicate with the paralyzed and mute Sarge.
Spencer Tracy is fully in command of his Danny, a puffed up but lovable smart guy who thinks he's tops with the ladies. Frankly, Tracy is more charismatic here than he is as the middle-aged, middle class everyman in most of his later MGM pictures. Joan Bennett is the big surprise. Noir fans know her man-killing femme fatales in Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street.. She's a cute tease in this picture, with flirtatious eyes that would communicate quite a bit more than the Pre-Code dialogue. She's marvelous -- she even lights a match by striking it on her rump. After Me and My Gal, seeing Tracy and Bennett as the husband and wife in Father of the Bride is almost depressing -- Danny and Helen are a lot more fun. Grabbing each other for a kiss, they knock over half the bottles on the café countertop. Helen: "After a kiss like that, you're going to have to marry me!"
The 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives DVD of Me and My Gal is a great B&W transfer of this 1932 gem, with good contrast. The audio track is in fine shape as well. The opening credits have been slightly windowboxed. The disc is highly recommended.
I wish I could say the same for every Fox Cinema Archives offering. I reached for the 1968 CinemaScope picture The Sweet Ride out of curiosity -- never turn down the chance to check out a Jacqueline Bisset movie -- only to discover that they're still putting out pan-scan transfers of widescreen pictures. Buyers of Me and My Gal won't be disappointed.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Me and My Gal rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.