Sunday, May 07, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Day of Reckoning (1933) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

DAY OF RECKONING (1933) is a terrific little Richard Dix movie, available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

This is one of the Dix films I've most enjoyed, as I continue to make my way through his filmography. It came highly recommended by Kristina, and having now seen it I understand why. It's a most diverting mashup of marital melodrama, pre-Code naughtiness, prison/murder/revenge flick, and sweet maternal-type love. Mix in some amazing stunt work on a Downtown L.A. roof, and you've got yourself quite an interesting 69 minutes!

John (Dix) and Dorothy Day (Madge Evans) are happily married, with a darling toddler boy (Spanky McFarland) and baby girl. As they celebrate John's birthday party -- with Bess Flowers among those in attendance, of course! -- all seems well, yet there are faint warning signs all is not quite right.

Jerry the milkman (Stuart Erwin) tells Mrs. Day that her order is COD because her bill is past due. And when Dorothy puts on a glamorous new gown for the party, John winces at the $95 price tag.

A couple of agents arrive during the party to arrest John, politely taking him out the back door so his guests won't see. It seems that John, unable to say no to Dorothy's extravagance, has been "borrowing" from the office funds.

Hollins (Conway Tearle), a friend of the family, has had his eye on Dorothy for quite a while. He hires a lawyer (Samuel S. Hinds) for John, who makes sure John will spend a couple years in jail before he receives probation, thus giving Hollins time to make his moves on the vulnerable, cash-poor Dorothy.

Hollins agrees to hire Dorothy as a secretary at his office, to the great dismay of his secretary-mistress (Isabel Jewell). Soon Dorothy is driving Hollins' "spare" car and spending time with him at his penthouse, while her children are lovingly cared for by Mamie (Una Merkel), the maid/nanny. And at this point there's a plot twist I sure didn't see coming, so I'll end my synopsis there!

As always, Dix is good as a poor schlub who should have sat down and had some firm talks with his wife about the family budget instead of making an idiotic choice to keep enabling her. He really comes into his own in the last third of the film when he gets a chance to take action against Hollins.

I don't know how much of the climactic fight sequence was real stuntmen and how much was trick photography, but it looked very realistic and I suspect a lot of it was actually done on location -- which made it all the more nail-biting.

The jail scenes, incidentally, are interesting in that the prison guards are portrayed much more sympathetically than was often the case in this era, including in Dix's own HELL'S HIGHWAY (1932).

Evans is lovely as Dorothy and even manages to be somewhat sympathetic at times, despite her own bad choices, which include frequently ignoring her children. She naively seems to think that nice things are due her as a matter of course, but when the chips are down she's also willing to go to work, struggling to learn to type.

However, she quickly undoes the audience goodwill she builds working, taking the easy way out of her financial discomfort as soon as it's available. She sends groceries to her maid and little kiddies but otherwise basically kicks her jailed hubby and children to the curb.

The scene stealers of the movie are Merkel and Erwin, especially Merkel, who has a significant role as Mamie. Mamie touchingly admires Mr. Day and is devoted to his children. She's determined to care for the children no matter what, going to great lengths to continue doing so, and she's aided by her loyal admirer Jerry (Erwin). Merkel's final scene interacting with both Dix and Erwin is extremely moving.

DAY OF RECKONING was directed by Charles Brabin and filmed by Ted Tetzlaff. The supporting cast includes James Bell, Raymond Hatton, Paul Hurst, and Thomas E. Jackson.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good print, and the trailer is included on the disc.

Previous reviews of Richard Dix films, a number of which are also available from the Warner Archive: LOVIN' THE LADIES (1930), THE PUBLIC DEFENDER (1931), HELL'S HIGHWAY (1932), ROAR OF THE DRAGON (1932), HIS GREATEST GAMBLE (1934), THE ARIZONIAN (1935), SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR (1936), YELLOW DUST (1936), IT HAPPENED IN HOLLYWOOD (1937), BLIND ALIBI (1938), SKY GIANT (1938), TWELVE CROWDED HOURS (1939), RENO (1939), MEN AGAINST THE SKY (1940), THE ROUNDUP (1941), TOMBSTONE: THE TOWN TOO TOUGH TO DIE (1942), and THE KANSAN (1943).

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Kristina Dijan said...

Thanks for the shout-out and glad you enjoyed! Reading all these plot details, it's kind of amazing they fit all that in so well! I loved how unpredictable and exciting it was and agree about Una, who got a juicy part and did great work.

I don't see a link for ACE OF ACES, so check that one out sometime, another super Dix performance. And THE WHISTLER movies! :)

7:13 AM  

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