Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Governor Gantry

One of the reasons to spend time watching classic movies is to get away from our dreadful current political culture. However, I cannot help but think of some of the movies that would fit the resignation of our vile Willie Stark of a Governor here in New York. Sure, the above reference to All the King's Men would fit, and on a political blog I read, somebody smartly mentioned Rain. But I've recommended Joan Crawford in my last two posts; besides, I'd like to recommend something with a little more class: Manhattan Melodrama.

William Powell stars as Jim Wade, an honest man who goes from lawyer to prosecutor to governor, who has an interesting relationship with gangster Blackie Gallagher (Clark Gable). The two grew up together -- watch for yet another appearance by an adolescent Mickey Rooney as the young Blackie, who is already at this young age a small-time chiseler. Wade and Gallagher both fall for the same woman (more on her later), and Gallagher eventually helps Wade become governor, albeit without Wade's knowledge. However, that surreptitious help is eventually discovered, leading to a crisis for the Wade administration. There is a deft resolution to the problem, however, which would satisfy the folks involved in policing the Production Code.

Playing love interest Eleanor Packer is Myrna Loy. Loy's isn't the most important character in the movie; Powell and Gable get much more of the screen time. But it's really interesting to see this particular pairing of Powell and Loy. Most of the movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy are comedies -- the six "Thin Man" movies are technically mysteries, but there's a lot of comedy in them. Their other movies, like Libeled Lady and Love Crazy, are straight-up screwball comedies. But both Powell and Loy were good at drama, and show it here. Gable is also quite good as a gangster, and indeed spent quite a bit of time early on in his career playing suave guys with dubious morality: A Free Soul and San Francisco both come to mind.

Interestingly, Manhattan Melodrama is the movie gangster John Dillinger was watching when he was shot to death after exiting a movie theater. It is available on DVD and, although a big change of pace from the other Powell/Loy movies, is still well worth watching.

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