Jack Durant (Warner Baxter) is a lawyer who relishes taking on cases other lawyers won’t touch. He loves defending bootleggers, showgirls, and all the other dregs of society, much to the dismay of his law firm partners. They would much rather work on more respectable cases and fire Jack after he successfully defends the notorious gangster Tony Gazotti. His fiancée Sue is also not impressed by the company Jack has been keeping and leaves him for Tom Siddall. But Tom has been seeing Mimi Montagne (Mae Clarke), who is known to hang around with gangsters. When Sue agrees to marry Tony, she tells him to end things with Mimi. Mimi is furious and calls up gangster Jim Crelliman and Jim arranges it so Mimi can publicly humiliate Tom at a party. When Tom shows up at the party, he and Mimi go out onto the balcony. Next thing anyone knows, there’s a gunshot and Mimi is dead on the balcony with Tom holding a gun. Of course, Tom is arrested. The only person who believes Tom is innocent is Sue, who convinces Jack to take the case. At first he doesn’t want to, but eventually he comes around to it. He starts investigating the case with a little help from Tony Gazotti and Mimi’s roommate Gertie Waxted (Myrna Loy), a good-hearted call girl. But in the process of investigating the crime, Jack falls in love with Gertie.
Penthouse is a true pre-code gem. The writing is very sharp and innuendo filled, it’s full of some fabulous art deco sets, there are some great suspenseful moments, and it’s quite fast paced. It’s only 90 minutes long and those 90 minutes just fly by. I really liked Warner Baxter, he seemed to be having so much fun with his role, and I always like Mynra Loy. Warner and Myrna were naturals together. It’s like this was Myrna getting practice for The Thin Man, which came out the following year. Penthouse is a movie that also appeals to so many different genres. It’s a gangster movie, it’s a murder mystery, it’s got a love story, and it’s a pre-code all rolled into one. If you see this one come up on TCM, it’s absolutely worth checking out. It was so much fun to watch, I just love it!