Friday, June 21, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Hard to Handle (1933)

HARD TO HANDLE is a fairly amusing James Cagney pre-Code which is part of the Warner Archive's Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 5 DVD collection.

Cagney plays Myron "Lefty" Merrill, who's always hatching a plot to make money. He meets Ruth (Mary Brian) when she wins a dance contest he sponsors -- but his partner skips out with the grand prize money.

Despite that little problem, sparks fly between Ruth and Lefty, to the horror of Ruth's mercenary mother, Lil (Ruth Donnelly), who wants pretty Ruth to marry someone with lots of money.

Lefty courts Ruth coast to coast, through good times and bad, with her mother alternately helping or hindering his campaign for Ruth's hand in marriage, depending on how much he has in his bank account at the time.

Cagney is his usual energetic self as a go-getter always looking for the next big money-making idea. Mary Brian, of BLESSED EVENT (1932) and GIRL MISSING (1933), does a nice job as Cagney's sweetheart.

Ruth Donnelly is one of my favorite character actresses, but her ultra-managing mother in this is way over the top and wears a little thin at times. That said, she does have some very good lines, and it was a huge role for her. In reality, she was just a decade older than her onscreen "daughter," and just three years older than Cagney.

Allen Jenkins is one of the film's top-billed actors, but he's only in one sequence, as the radio announcer for the dance contest which opens the movie. Sterling Holloway is one of the dance contestants. Claire Dodd plays her typical role as the "bad girl" other woman with verve.

I was puzzled by an actor who looked a lot like Frank McHugh but clearly wasn't him; the mystery was solved when I learned it was McHugh's brother, Matt!

Fans of Cagney's THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) will appreciate the joke that one of his get-rich-quick schemes in HARD TO HANDLE is called "Grapefruit Acres."

Early on in the film, when Lefty comes up with a promotional treasure hunt scheme for a seaside amusement park, I recognized Pacific Ocean Park, which can also be seen in GUN CRAZY (1950) and MAN IN THE DARK (1953).

HARD TO HANDLE was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and filmed by Barney McGill. It runs 78 minutes.

Previously reviewed films from the Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 5 Collection: MISS PINKERTON (1932) and LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT (1933).


OpenID movieclassics said...

I really like this early Cagney film - tempted by that box set though it is a pity it is Warner Archive rather than a normal release like the earlier Forbidden Hollywood collections! The dance marathon scenes are great. Judy

12:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Those earlier Forbidden Hollywood sets were amazing, including commentary tracks. But at least the series is continuing, even though it's just the movies and no extras...

It's fun seeing Sterling Holloway as one of the dance marathon contestants!

Best wishes,

10:30 PM  

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