Allen Jenkins

Havana Widows (1933)

Havana Widows After losing their jobs dancing in a chorus, Mae (Joan Blondell) and Sadie (Glenda Farrell) take some advice from one of their friends and head to Havana to meet rich men and snare them in breach of promise lawsuits.  But first they need money to get to Havana.  Mae decides to hit up Herman Brody (Allen Jenkins) for a loan, claiming she needs the money to go tend to her sick mother in Kansas.  He loans her the money, but since he doesn’t have the cash, he has to get a loan from his boss.  But before he can get the money to Mae and Sadie, Herman gambles the money away and gets involved in a convoluted scheme involving an insurance policy to cover the lost money.

Once Mae and Sadie make it to Havana, they pose as rich women and quickly meet Deacon Jones (Guy Kibbee).  Deacon Jones can’t hold his liquor and can’t afford to be involved in any scandals, so it seems like the perfect target!  Plus he has a son named Bob (Lyle Talbot), who catches Mae’s eye.  Unfortunately for Sadie and Mae, Bob doesn’t have any money of his own and they meet Deacon’s wife, so a breach of promise suit is out of the question.  But they can at least try to trap the Deacon in a scandalous situation and try to get money from him that way.

Meanwhile, Herman is getting into hot water over his insurance scheme and needs to find Mae and Sadie to get his money back.  When he finds out he’s been scammed, he hops on the next boat to Havana.  But when he arrives, he gets pulled into Sadie and Mae’s scheme to scandalize the Deacon so he can get his money back that way.  They cause a scandal all right, but it gets so out of hand that the Deacon can’t buy his way out of it.  In fact, the whole lot of them are court ordered to leave Cuba immediately.  But that’s okay, because everybody winds up happy in the end.

I can sum up Havana Widows in one word: convoluted.  But it’s convoluted in a way that only Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell could pull off.  Both Blondell and Farrell are so good at, well, being Blondell and Farrell, they can do just fine with such cockamamie material.  It’s nonsense, but it’s fun nonsense full of rapid-fire dialogue, wisecracks, and a good cast.

I’ve Got Your Number (1934)

I've Got Your Numbe 1934Terry Riley (Pat O’Brien) and Johnny (Allan Jenkins) are telephone repairmen who aren’t exactly known for being employees of the month.  But rather than fire them, their boss Joe Flood (Eugene Pallette) decides to send them out on the worst jobs the phone company gets.  Much to Joe’s dismay, the tough jobs actually work out well for Terry and Johnny.

When Terry is sent to a job at a burning building, he saves the life of prominent businessman John P. Schuyler (Henry O’Neill) and Schuyler tells Terry that if he ever needs a favor, don’t hesitate to ask.  When Terry and Johnny are sent to take the phone equipment from fortune teller Madame Francis (Glenda Farrell), they end up exposing her as a fraud, but she seduces Terry and Johnny soon starts dating her.

One day, Terry is later sent to the hotel where Marie Lawson (Joan Blondell) works as a switchboard operator.  Marie had inadvertently helped Nicky (Gordon Westcott) use the phone system to bilk another hotel guest out of a lot of money and the manager wants to see if the phone had been tapped.  When Terry doesn’t find a phone tap, Marie loses her job.  But Terry is extremely attracted to Marie and before he gets her fired, he asks her out and she turns him down.  That night, he messes with the phone at her apartment so he can come and fix it.  While he’s at it, he ruins her dinner so she has no other choice but to go out with him.  But that night, Marie starts to come around to Terry.  He even goes to see Schuyler about getting her a new job.

Marie is very happy at her new job, but her trouble from her old job soon catches up with her.  It doesn’t take long for Nicky to find out where she’s working and he uses her to pull a huge scam on her boss.  Once again, Marie is left holding the bag and this time, she’s in so much trouble the story makes the news.   But with their knowledge of the phone system, Terry and Johnny are able to save her.

For the most part, I really liked I’ve Got Your Number.  Like many pre-codes, it’s fast paced and full of snappy banter and innuendo. Some of its scenes are extremely pre-code.  My biggest complaint about it is that Glenda Farrell was way underused. In fact, her entire character was pretty irrelevant to the story.  They could have cut her character out all together and it wouldn’t have made a big difference.  Glenda Farrell is by far one of my favorite pre-code actresses, so to see her so underused in I’ve Got Your Number was very disappointing.  But luckily Joan Blondell and Pat O’Brien helped make up for the lack of Glenda Farrell.

The Mind Reader (1933)

Chandra (Warren William) and his friend Frank (Allen Jenkins) have tried their hands at just about every carnival scam there is and haven’t had much luck with any of them.  But then they realize where the real money is — fortune telling.  Chandra becomes Chandra the Great, and while he’s performing, Frank hides under the stage and uses a secret microphone to feed questions from the audience to Chandra. Frank also uses the shows as a chance to steal purses from some of the audience members.

After a show one night, the owner of a stolen purse comes back with her niece Sylvia (Constance Cummings) to look for it.  Chandra is very attracted to Sylvia, so he tries to impress her by pretending to have a “vision” of exactly where the purse is.  Chandra and Sylvia start seeing each other and he swears up and down that he’s really in it to help other people.  Even when he hires her to be his secretary, he manages to keep his real motives hidden from her for a while.  Even when she does start to figure it out, he convinces her the act is really just an advertisement for his ability to help people.

Chandra and Sylvia get married, but he isn’t able to keep up his charade for much longer.  When a person commits suicide after getting some bad advice from Chandra, Sylvia begs him to give it  up and go straight.  He becomes a door-t0-door salesman and Frank becomes a chauffeur, but then the two of them come up with a new scheme.  Frank has the dirt on all the wealthy men in town and knows exactly when they’re cheating on their wives.  Chandra poses as a psychic again, Dr. Munro this time, and sells his services to their wives to tell them when their husbands are with their other women.  It doesn’t take long for the unfaithful husbands to start getting angry with Dr. Munro, and when one comes looking for revenge, Chandra shoots the man in self-defense and flees, inadvertently leaving Sylvia to take the fall for him.

The Mind Reader is a pretty enjoyable Warren William vehicle, but not one of his best from the pre-code era.  Warren William is very good in it and Chandra is very much the unethical heel he is best known for playing, but Chandra has more redeeming qualities than Williams’ characters in things like Employees’ Entrance or Skyscraper Souls.  It’s a rather unusual pre-code, which isn’t a bad thing, but I think I would have liked the movie more if the ending weren’t so forced.

I’ve got to hand it to The Mind Reader, though, for containing what has got to be the most canted angle shots I have ever seen in one movie.  The canted angles represent how crooked Chandra and Frank were, and this movie has more canted angles than an episode of Batman.

All in all, it isn’t a bad movie, but if you’re looking for a definitive pre-code Warren William movie, I’d definitely recommend Skyscraper Souls or Employees’ Entrance over The Mind Reader.