by Jay Seaver
"Me and My Gal" is an old movie, and that's what one has to call it. It's not a classic, and "vintage" implies that, like wine, it ages well. Not all seventy-year-old movies do that; some, like this, were just made in 1932, taxied around the country to fill a screen for a week or two, and then vanished into relatively deserved obscurity. It's not all bad; in fact, it's just good enough to show what doesn't work.We start with Danny Dolan (Spencer Tracy), a cop walking a waterfront beat. In one day, he meets Helen Riley (Joan Bennett), a sassy diner waitress, and saves an annoying drunk (Will Stanton) from drowning. This earns him a promotion but pulls another cop away from keeping tabs on the boat carrying Duke Cartega (George Walsh), a gangster that the law hasn't been able to make charges stick to, returning to the country after being away a year. It turns out he used to go with Helen's newlywed sister Kate (Marion Burns), and wants to use her respectable job at a bank to help rob the place while her sailor husband is away.
"Not a classic, just made at the same time."
Or at least, it seems that way. The movie spends a lot of time talking about "the numbers" that the Cartegas want Kate to get so that they can burgle the appropriate safe deposit boxes, but even though Duke looks to have Kate hide him after the robbery, I have no idea whether she ever did actually supply him with these numbers. This whole half of the movie is a real mess, the plot of a gangster flick uncomfortably jammed into a romantic comedy as the B story, with neither actress Marion Burns or generally-respected director Raoul Walsh able to give us much of an impression of where Kate stands one way or the other.
Of course, for all that the Kate & Duke stuff is most of the plot, it is the B story; how's the main one? It suffices, for the most part. Give the movie stars less personable than Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett, and it might become a tough slog indeed. The pair have to get by on raw charm and chemistry, as the dialog mostly consists of Helen telling Danny to put his hat on straight and variations on calling something "jake", as one apparently did in the early 1930s (screenwriters of today, take these scenes as a warning about the perils of creating/adopting catchphrases). Neither is close to living up to their potential, but they're good enough to avoid embarrassing themselves.
Unfortunately, they're stuck in a film that at times seems to have very little confidence in its audience. Per IMDB, there were seven writers on this thing, and they still weren't able to tie the plot together. The meant-to-be-comedic banter is a real mess, with Walsh and company not only failing to get much zing by having the same lines ping-pong back and forth between characters, but also not trusting their audience. At one point, the characters actually explain what the joke for the rest of the scene is going to be, and it still falls flat. Will Stanton plays his drunk in a painfully broad manner, although Frank Moran gets a few laughs as an educated longshoreman.Tracy, Bennett, and Walsh would all have much better films in them - including Tracy and Bennett reteaming as the parents in "Father of the Bride" eighteen years later, and Walsh doing the westerns and crime movies that better suited his skils - which makes this early collaboration an interesting curiosity. It's not very good, but it's watchable enough to highlight what made the actual classics of this period work.
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originally posted: 09/20/11 12:21:06