Friday, December 12, 2014

The Last Gangster

No; this isn't the last blog post about a gangster movie; it's about the movie The Last Gangster, whith TCM is running today at 6:00 PM as part of a birthdy salute to Edward G. Robinson.

Robinson stars as Joe Krozac, a mob leader of Yugoslav descent who lives the good life, apparently saving the violence for the little people. Joe wants a family, so he goes back to the old country to find himself a wife, which he does in the form of Talya (Rose Stradner, whom MGM were apparently grooming to be their next European star but who never quite made it). They get married and have a seemingly happy life, Talya knowing nothing of what Joe really does because he's keeping her in the dark; being a foreigner with a limited command of the English language helps. Of course, you know that the authorities are eventually going to get Krozac, because the Production Code demands it. That arrest and conviction comes on a tax evasion charge, much as happened to Al Capone. So there's a trial and Joe is found guilty and sent to Alcatraz.

Ah, but there's a catch. In the meantime, Joe has successfully knocked up Talya, who is with child as the whole legal falderal against him goes on. Joe gets a ten-year sentence and vows to fight it every step of the way, as well as coming out of prison better than ever and having a great family and all that stuff. Needless to say, it's not going to happen this way. Talya doesn't want her son to know that Dad is a prisoner. And when the newspaperman Paul North (James Stewart) writes a story that puts Talya in a bad light, he takes pity on her. The two of them fall in love, leaving Talya to file for divorce from Joe, marry Paul, change her name, and move to one of those peaceful small cities that you can find anywhere on MGM's back lot.

Of course, Joe only got a ten-year sentence, not a life sentence. Those ten years are going to run out and Joe is going to get out of prison, wanting to see his wife and son. Only they're not his wife and son any longer, which of course is going to be one of the dramatic tensions of the second half of the movie. There's another, however. When Joe gets out of prison, his old gang is still there. They've been waiting for their payoff for ten years, and they're convinced that Joe has been holding out on them and has a secret stash of money somewhere. They're going to get that no matter what. And if torturing Joe won't get him to reveal the location, then perhaps they'll have to kidnap the son he loves but has never met....

There's some hoary material here, but unsurprisingly based on who we've got in the cast, it's all handled fairly well. Robinson did better work, to be sure, but he's more than capable as the man whose world crumbles around him over the course of the movie. Stewart was still fairly early in his career, and is a good second lead, neither having the "aw shucks" persona from films like Harvey or the hard-boiled post-war persona from something like Rope. Rose Stradner isn't much, and you can see why she never became the star MGM had hoped for. It's also worth watching the 30s character actors who show up in Joe Krozac's gang. Overall, the story is done well, if nothing groundbreaking. It's not as good as the Warner gangster movies, but I liked it more than MGM's Johnny Eager. The Last Gangster is more of a programmer than a prestige film, and that's to the movie's benefit.

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