Jim Fitzpatrick (Walter Huston) seems to be living the all-American dream life. He’s got a wife, children, a nice home, a good job as a police officer, and a close relationship with his brother and fellow cop Ed (Wallace Ford). Jim takes his job very seriously, especially when it comes to putting an end to organized crime. When the bodies of some gangsters are found, Jim immediately suspects that notorious gangster Sam Belmonte (Jean Hersholt) is the one responsible. Sam gets off the hook easily that time, but Jim is determined to come down on him hard.
Jim’s dedication eventually ends up working against him, though, and it gets him transferred to a smaller, quieter district. Ed, however, continues to keep tabs on Belmonte and one night goes to question Daisy Stevens (Jean Harlow), Belmonte’s stenographer. She tells Ed that she’s through with Belmonte and the two of them spend the evening getting drunk together and begin having an affair. Meanwhile, Jim proves to be such a success at his new precinct when he stops a bank robber that he is made chief of police. Back at his old precinct, Jim’s top priority is breaking up organized crime and starts shutting down speakeasies left and right. However, he is also determined to not give any officers any unfair advantages. When Ed asks for a promotion so he could have more money to take Daisy out with, Jim turns him down. Later that night, he goes out with Daisy and they end up running into Belmonte. Belmonte gives Ed the chance to earn some extra money by fixing it so he can get his illegal goods into town without getting caught.
The next day, Jim tells Ed that he will be in charge of escorting a large transport of cash. When Ed tells Daisy about this, she tells one of Belmotne’s associates and they plan to steal the truck. Daisy tells Ed about the plan and convinces him to go along with it. The big heist goes down, but unbeknownst to Ed, the truck has been followed by two other officers who chase the thieves down. When questioned at the station, one of the thieves admits that Ed was in on it, too. The case goes to trial, and shockingly, all who were involved are found not guilty. Ed desperately wants to rebuild his relationship with Jim and sever all ties with Belmonte. Knowing that Belmonte and his gang are all out celebrating their court victory, Ed agrees to go confront Belmonte with Jim and several police officers backing them up. Of course, Belmonte isn’t willing to go down without a fight and insists on going out in a hail of gunfire.
Beast of the City is a great crime movie. Super gritty and raw with excellent performances all around (be sure to keep an eye out for a very young Mickey Rooney in a small part as one of Jim’s children). It’s kind of like The Public Enemy, but from the cops’ perspective. With so much grit and violence, y0u might think this was a Warner Brothers film, but surprisingly, it was produced by MGM. That big shoot-out scene at the end of the film was definitely not something you would typically expect of a 1930s MGM film. Especially since Irving Thalberg didn’t work on it and he was the one who pushed through a lot of MGM’s edgier films during that era. This movie actually came about when Louis B. Mayer wanted to do a movie that created a positive image of police officers, but then it ended up being so violent that he refused to let it be the top feature in double features, it could only be the second film. But Beast of the City is definitely top-feature quality.
I picked this one to write about for The Scarlett Olive’s For The Boys blogathon because it’s the complete antithesis of the 1930s MGM women’s picture. When MGM wanted to appeal to women, they put Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, or Greta Garbo in the lead. They’d have Adrian come up with some fabulous gowns and have some handsome leading man for them to wind up with. The last way those movies would end is with a violent bloodbath. Beast of the City doesn’t really have any female characters for women moviegoers to identify with. Jean Harlow’s character isn’t exactly the kind of person women would be rooting for. It doesn’t have a love story, it’s ultimately about the relationship between two brothers. These aren’t even the kind of men that women would sit in the audience and swoon over. Although I think women could easily enjoy it, I certainly did, it’s pretty clear that they weren’t expecting women to be lining up for it in 1932.