Madge Evans

The Mayor of Hell (1933)

When Patsy Gargan (James Cagney) first arrives as a deputy commissioner of the state’s reform school, he has no idea of what he’s in for.  He doesn’t even take the job very seriously at first, he only got the job as a favor and only cares about the money.  But when he sees the appalling way the school is being run, he changes his tune very quickly.  During his first visit, a boy named Jimmy (Frankie Darro) makes an escape attempt and cuts himself badly and falls off of the barbed wire fence.  The school’s warden Thompson (Dudley Digges) tries to dismiss just how badly he had been hurt, but nurse Dorothy (Madge Evans) insists he needs medical attention and Patsy agrees.

Patsy talks to Dorothy about the school and finds out it’s worse than he even thought.  Thompson rules the school with an iron fist, he regularly denies the boys medical treatment, and the food is barely edible.  He listens to her suggestions about how to improve the school and takes them to heart.  Patsy sends Thompson away for a while and turns the school around.  To teach the boys responsibility, he lets them set up a sort of mini government, complete with a judicial process and elected officials.  He brings in better food and most importantly, he treats the boys with respect.

The school has never been better than it was with Patsy’s rules.  He gets through to those boys in a way nobody else ever has.  But then Thompson returns and tries to sabotage Patsy’s success.  He bribes a couple of the boys to try leaving the school so it looks like they’re trying to run away, but they come back on their own free will.  However, Patsy is a former racketeer and when he gets into a fight over some old business, he accidentally shoots a man and goes into hiding.  Thompson takes the opportunity to undo all of Patsy’s rules and the boys think Patsy has abandoned them.

The boys aren’t happy and when Dorothy is fired for complaining about the quality of the food, Thompson fires her.  Things reach a breaking point when Thompson forces a boy that he knows is very sick to spend a night in a drafty solitary confinement cell and he dies.  The boys begin to riot, complete with torches, and put Thompson on trial for murder.  Meanwhile, Dorothy has gone to tell Patsy about what’s been going on and he comes rushing back to the school.  When he gets there, he finds out that Thompson has died after being chased onto a rooftop and falling.  But once again, Patsy can talk sense into the boys when no one else can and puts a stop to the madness.

Mayor of Hell gets off to a bit of a slow start, but stick with it because it does pick up after a while and builds to a very wild finish.  The riot scenes are absolutely spectacular and pretty terrifying.  The anger that all those boys were unleashing absolutely radiates off the screen.  But if you’re a big Cagney fan, you might be disappointed by how little he’s actually on screen.  Cagney doesn’t show up until almost half an hour into the movie.  He gets top billing, but the real stars of the movie are all of the boys.  Even Dudley Digges figures more prominently into the story, so if anything, Cagney is actually playing third fiddle here.

The Greeks Had a Word for Them (1932)

The Greeks Had a Word For Them 1932

The Greeks Had a Word for Them has a pretty straightforward story:  Three former showgirl friends, Schatzi (Joan Blondell), Polaire (Madge Evans), and Jean (Ina Claire), are all determined to land themselves some rich men.  They all live together and share pretty much everything: jewelery, clothes, and even men.  Well, they don’t exactly share the men as much as they steal them.  Jean is particularly unscrupulous about making a move for her friends’ men.  She even goes as far as to plant one of her necklaces on Polaire just as she’s about to meet her rich fiance’s father to make her look like a thief.  Jean does manage to snag Justin, Polaire’s fiance’s father, and is all set to marry him, but backs out at the last-minute because she doesn’t want to give up her fun, single life and heads to Paris with Polaire and Schatzi.

If a movie about three gold digging friends, one of whom is named Schatzi, sounds familiar, that’s because you probably best remember it as How to Marry a Millionaire starring Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable.  But much like The Letter and Waterloo Bridge, the pre-code version is quite significantly different from the production code era version.  In fact, I’d say the only real similarities between the two movies are the fact that they’re both about three gold digging friends, some of the names are similar, one person backs out of a wedding, and only one of them ends up with a rich man in the end.  In the 1953 version, all the women set out to land rich men on their own, but in the 1932 version, the three friends are constantly stealing each others’ men.  There was so much backstabbing and man stealing going on between them, it’s beyond me why these three ladies stayed friends.  Well, at least I don’t get why they stayed friends with Jean anyway.  If they were really serious about trying to land rich men, considering how incredibly ruthless Jean was, I’d think they’d want to keep her far, far away from their men.  The pre-code version is also much boozier and full of scenes where the ladies are seen wearing their slips for absolutely no real reason.

Even though I thought it was pretty fun and entertaining, I wouldn’t call it one of my favorites.  I actually preferred How to Marry a Millionaire to this version.  I mostly just found the character of Jean so very unlikable.  I know she was supposed to be a very over the top character, but yikes!  Like I said, the fact that these two women wanted to be friends with such an awful woman is totally baffling to me.  Maybe if they had been able to go with their original choice of Jean Harlow for that part, she might have been able to give the character some more charm.  On the whole, the movie wasn’t bad.  I’d watch it again if nothing else was on, but I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to watch it again.  But if you do watch it, be sure to keep an eye out for Betty Grable’s bit part as a hat check girl!