You cant go wrong with Raoul Walsh directing,the Epstein brothers scripting and a cast of James Cagney, Olivia De Havilland and Rita Hayworth.
The plot ( from a play by James Hogan) was so popular that it was used three times in Hollywood- in 1932 ( with Gary Cooper) and later in the 40s as One Sunday Afternoon (1948, still with Raoul Walsh in the director’s chair).
Set in New York in the 1890’s, the film was a nice change of pace for both Walsh and Cagney, with Cagney playing Biff Grimes, a pugnacious, quick tempered man who “don’t take nothing from nobody” because “that’s the kind of hairpin I am!”
All the men gather outside the barber shop as Virginia Brush (Rita Hayworth) saunters by. Biff’s pal Hugo Barnstead (Jack Carson) is in the group.
I had forgotten that this film is not all comedic in tone, though played with a light touch. Much of the film is in flashback as we learn how Biff ended up doing a five year prison stretch . And how his father (Alan Hale) is killed on a building site run by Biff’s friend ,Hugo.
Hugo manages to arrange a double date with Virginia and her friend Amy who is a nurse with progressive ideas !
Biff is besotted with Virginia who goes off with Hugo.
The scenes with Biff and Amy have some great dialogue.
Amy is a woman with women’s rights on her mind and her ideas shock Biff as he says to her, “Wouldn’t you like a nice young man to marry you some day?”
Her reply, “Not particularly!”
She asks for a cigarette and again surprises him, “…..I’ve been around, they can say an awful lot of things about Biff Grimes,but not that he ever gave a girl a cigarette.”
He really cant understand Amy:”Well, your mother’s a bloomer girl, you’re a nicotine fiend, are there any more at home like you?”
Amy: “I have an aunt who’s an actress!”
Olivia is a delight as the forward thinking Amy whom Biff comes to realise is the girl he loves and marries and sticks by him when he goes to prison after trusting Hugo who has been using substandard material in his building work . (He had persuaded Biff to work for him and got Biff to sign contracts which made him liable when things went wrong).
George Tobias is Biff’s loyal friend, the barber Nick.
Alan Hale is Biff’s father who can’t hold down a job and is always having trouble with his teeth – which is convenient for Biff as he is taking a correspondence course in dentistry.
Although Hugo has become a successful business man, his marriage to Virginia is not doing well.
And by coincidence, he need a dentist at short notice. Guess who he is referred to. Yes, it’s Biff who has continued his dental course in prison.
When Hugo and Virginia come to him, Biff is understandably still sore at the time he spent in prison and pulls Hugo’s tooth.
Hugo:”What’s the idea. I wanted gas.”
Biff: “I haven’t got anything against you any more, Hugo, but I wouldn’t be quite human if I didn’t take a little revenge!”
It’s a pleasure to hear the good old songs featured in the film, In The Good Old Summertime, Wait still The Sun Shines, Nellie , When You Were Sweet Sixteen and The Band Played On. And of course there is a barber shop quartet.
The film’s end credits has sing-a-along lyrics on the screen to And The Band Played On. Sending everybody home with a smile on their faces I’m sure.
The film cried out for color. According to the A.F.I Ann Sheridan was set to play Virginia Brush but was in a salary dispute with Warner Brothers. I thought Rita Hayworth was just fine and conveyed how the older Virginia was not at all happy though having wealth and position in society.
In the 1933 stage play, Lloyd Nolan played Biff. And in the 1948 musical version, Dennis Morgan took on the Cagney role.
I haven’t seen either of the other film versions, so can’t compare them, but everything worked in the ‘41 version.
And a final piece of Epstein dialogue:
Amy: “I just can’t get over that electric light. Isnt it dangerous?”
Hugo: “Not if you pay the bills.”