THE BIG SHAKEDOWN features a good cast in a crime film which is entertaining, if not particularly noteworthy.
Charles Farrell plays Jimmy Morrell, a nice-guy pharmacist who runs a drugstore with his fiancee, Norma Nelson (Bette Davis). Being both nice and broke, Jimmy is an easy target for mobster Dutch Barnes (Ricardo Cortez). Dutch puts Jimmy on his payroll producing lookalike knockoffs of products such as toothpaste, which make Dutch a fortune -- especially as he forces local businesses to buy his products.
Jimmy tries to break away from Dutch but is repeatedly threatened. When Jimmy makes a fake variant on digitalis, a close relative pays the price. Will Jimmy finally do something to end Dutch's reign of terror?
Glenda Farrell and Renee Whitney play Barnes's current and future lady friends, with Allen Jenkins as his enforcer.
This is a fast-moving 64 minute film. It was released in the last few months of the pre-Code era, but it doesn't contain anything particularly racy. The movie's entertaining, particularly when Glenda Farrell goes to the D.A. with what she knows, but it's a bit tiresome watching the weak-willed Jimmy constantly controlled by Dutch. Sure, Dutch is lethal, but when he sets Jimmy up to take the fall for a murder and forces him to make a product that will result in deaths, it's frustrating that it takes Jimmy so long to tip off the authorities.
That said, fans of the cast should find it a pleasant hour. Cortez and Jenkins, in particular, always excel at playing these character types; a scene where Jenkins strongly hints that Davis's pharmacy needs to buy beer from Dutch is a good one.
This is one of several films Davis appeared in released in 1934; the titles also included the very entertaining FOG OVER FRISCO and OF HUMAN BONDAGE, which netted Davis a Best Actress Oscar nomination and full-fledged stardom.
The cast also includes Henry Daniell, Samuel S. Hinds, Dewey Robinson, John Wray, and Robert Emmett O'Connor.
THE BIG SHAKEDOWN has a screenplay by Niven Busch and Rian James; it was photographed by Sid Hickox. This was the last film directed by John Francis Dillon, who died in April 1934. He was 49 years old.
THE BIG SHAKEDOWN is available in a nice remastered print from the Warner Archive. The disc includes a trailer. The DVD is available for rental from ClassicFlix.
The trailer is available at the Turner Classic Movies website.