After JOHNNY COME LATELY (1943), the second half of tonight's "small town" double bill at the UCLA Festival of Preservation was THE INSIDE STORY, a film which managed to simultaneously charm and infuriate. The movie is filled with wonderful character actors in a warm environment, yet they're wrapped up inside bizarre, heavyhanded economics propaganda which has no basis in reality.
The story starts out in 1947, with "Uncle" Ed (Charles Winninger) lecturing a fellow bank patron (Hobart Cavanagh) not to lock up his money in his safe deposit box. The money needs to be circulating, you see. The rest of the story, told in flashback, is set in 1933, during dark days of the Depression.
The basic thrust of the picture, repeated over and over, is that if money "circulates," there will be no economic problems. The concept is completely divorced from other economic considerations such as supply and demand, risk and reward, regulatory effects and uncertainty, the cost of doing business, or anything else. Just spend that money, folks, and the economy will be doing great! (Where have I heard that before?)
The most egregious aspect of the movie's phony economics lesson is the demonization of the storekeeper for raising prices when local salaries go up. You see, he's preventing people from having more purchasing power and thus keeping the negative economic cycle going. The movie completely ignores the basic economic fact that if salaries are generally going up, then the storekeeper's costs likewise go up. It will cost more to transport the goods to market and more to make the goods, because all the people employed in those enterprises are being paid more money. The movie, however, is set in an economics Fantasyland and never acknowledges the store owner's increased costs. He's an evil businessman and by golly, he's supposed to suck up those costs, because it's not fair! It's amazing how little has changed in 65 years.
The economic angle is a huge part of the film; in fact apparently it was the main purpose for the movie. If we remove that aspect from consideration, we're left with a wonderful cast in a rather amusing tale of $1000 "circulating" throughout a small town.
It all starts when a collection agent (Roscoe Karns) puts $1000 in a hotel vault. For reasons which make perfect sense in the film, the broke hotel owner (Gene Lockhart) believes that his daughter's boyfriend (William Lundigan) has paid him the large amount of back rent he owes.
The hotel owner pays off his debt to the storekeeper (Will Wright), who pays off a debt to a wealthy townswoman (Florence Bates), who uses the money to put a despondent lawyer (Robert Shayne) on retainer, who gives the money to his model wife (Gail Patrick), who gives the money to the boyfriend (Lundigan) for painting her portrait, who puts the money back in the safe, where it's waiting for the collection agent when he asks for his money back. Whew! It's fun to watch the effects on each character as the money passes through their hands.
The cast also includes Marsha Hunt as the hotel owner's daughter, Frank Ferguson as the local newspaperman, and Allen Jenkins as an amusingly shady character who comes to town for the day. Spending 89 minutes with these folks is quite enjoyable. Bates is particularly funny in a very good role.
Ernest Lehman was one of those who worked on the story; the screenplay was by Richard Sale and Mary Loos. Allan Dwan directed. The black and white cinematography was by Reggie Lanning.
Prior to the film wonderful Marsha Hunt came to the podium and spoke eloquently for several minutes. What a privilege to hear her speak again! She said that the film had come along at a sad point in her life, after the death of her premature daughter, who had lived for just a day. She didn't feel like working, but her husband encouraged her to take the role in order to focus on something else. She said everyone in the cast was very congenial and working with them was a wonderful experience.
She particularly mentioned that William Lundigan was a wonderful leading man who should have had a bigger career, and she joked that she "works with a Lockhart every 50 years," as a half century after making the film she had played Annie Lockhart's mother in a stage production of ON GOLDEN POND. I found a review of that 1997 production in the Los Angeles Times; William Windom, who recently passed away, played the father.
THE INSIDE STORY has also been shown under the title THE BIG GAMBLE. This Republic film does not appear to have had a DVD or video release in the U.S.