Running a penny arcade is a family affair for Ma Delano (Lucille LaVerne) and her grown children Jennie (Evalyn Knapp), Joe (Ray Gallagher), and Harry (James Cagney). Mitch (Warren Hymer) runs a sideshow near the Delano’s arcade, but it’s actually a front for his bootlegging operation. Ma Delano despises alcohol and wishes Mitch would just go away, but she has more ties to it than she’d like. Her daughter Jennie is dating Angel Harrigan (Grant Withers), Mitch’s former sideshow barker. And unbeknownst to her, Harry has gotten involved in Mitch’s racket.
After Mitch gets picked up by the cops, Harry starts running the bootlegging business himself and helping himself to the profits. When Mitch gets out of jail and finds out how Harry has been running things, he’s out for blood. Mitch confronts Harry, but Harry shoots and kills Mitch. Harry tries to get his girlfriend Myrtle (Joan Blondell) to cover for him with the police. However, he tells the truth to his mother and she tries to frame Harrigan for the whole thing. But what they don’t realize is that Jennie witnessed the confrontation between Harry and Mitch.
Sinners’ Holiday isn’t a terrible movie, but there are plenty of far better movies out there about bootleggers. However, Sinners’ Holiday is very noteworthy for being the film debut of James Cagney. Sinners’ Holiday was based on a play called “Penny Arcade,” which had a brief run on Broadway. Cagney and Blondell were in the play together and even though the critics didn’t care for the show, they did like Cagney and Blondell. As fate would have it, one of their admirers happened to be Al Jolson. Jolson thought the story might work well as a movie so he bought the rights and sold them to Warner Brothers with the stipulation that Cagney and Blondell play the same roles they had in the stage version.
Even though the movie isn’t particularly great, it’s easy to see why Jolson made sure to insist on Cagney being included in the film version. He is by far the biggest reason to watch Sinners’ Holiday. If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t have even guessed that this was his film debut. Not only does he get an extremely generous amount of screen time for someone who had never made a movie before, he plays the part as though he’d already been playing gangster types for years. Not a bad way to get a start a movie career.
Bill White (Grant Withers) is the irresponsible kind of guy that women are usually warned to stay away from. He may have a job as a train engineer, but he’s a womanizer who drinks too much. He does have a girlfriend named Marie (Joan Blondell), but she’s eager to get married and he isn’t. Bill’s longtime friend Jack (Regis Toomey) is a bit more stable and has been married to Lily (Mary Astor) for two years. On the night of their second anniversary, Jack invites Bill to join him and Lily for dinner. But when Bill gets thrown out of his boarding house because of his irresponsible behavior, he’s invited to stay with them.
Living with Jack and Lily seems to have a good effect on Bill. He straightens up his act a bit and is able to help out around the house a lot. Everybody seems to be benefiting from this arrangement. That is until one day when Bill realizes there is a woman he’d be willing to settle down for after all– Lily. Lily has also fallen in love with Bill, but Bill cares too much about Jack to carry on with Lily behind his back and leaves with no explanation. Jack knows that something happened between Bill and Lily and confronts him about it while they’re at work on a train. They get into a huge fight that leaves Jack blind.
Bill feels terribly guilty after the accident and starts hitting the bottle again. He goes back to Marie and in a drunken stupor, the both of them nearly get married. But he backs out at the last minute and goes to see Jack instead. Jack has no desire to hear from his former friend and when he finds out Bill had come over, he sends Lily away for a few weeks. Bill falls into a very deep depression and when their town is hit by some heavy rainfall that causes the river to overflow and flood the town, Bill decides to drive a train engine off a bridge as a way to dam up the river. Jack has also fallen into a severe depression and when he finds out about Bill’s idea, decides to beat him to the punch. Bill tries to stop him but Jack knocks him unconscious, throws him off the train, and carries on with the plan. Some months later, Lily comes back to town and she and Bill run into each other. Lily is still open to a relationship with Bill, which makes him happier than he has ever been.
I really enjoyed this movie. Good story with good acting and good direction by William Wellman. I loved Grant Withers as Bill and James Cagney and Joan Blondell are standouts in their minor roles. Cagney played Jack and Bill’s friend Eddie Bailey, and even though he doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, you can definitely see that he was a real up and comer. The interesting thing about Other Men’s Women is that it can just as easily appeal to someone interested in the love triangle aspect of the story as it can to someone in the mood for something more gritty. When this movie is gritty, it’s pretty darn gritty. The fight scenes are very well done and it was interesting to see how it dealt with Jack’s blindness, especially just before he got on the train to drive it off the bridge.