Sunday, January 26, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Pay-Off (1930) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Last summer I reviewed two films from Kino Lorber's RKO Classic Adventures set, THE SILVER HORDE (1930) and THE PAINTED DESERT (1931).

I've now returned to the set and watched the final film in the collection, THE PAY-OFF (1930). I found it similar to the first two films in that it's not a top-drawer film, but it has enough interesting elements to be worthwhile.

Marian Nixon and William Janney play a young couple, Nancy and Tommy. On the evening before they're planning to marry, they're in a park when Rocky (Hugh Trevor) robs them of the $230 they've saved for their wedding and honeymoon.

Tommy happens to know where the crowd Rocky runs with hangs out, and he hatches a plan to "steal" his money back from Rocky. It doesn't go very well, but elegant gangster Gene Fenmore (Lowell Sherman) admires the young couple's gumption and honesty -- only attempting to take back from Rocky exactly what was stolen from them -- and he not only returns the money to Tommy and Nancy, he invites them to live in his apartment.

Tommy and Nancy delay their marriage and move in with Gene, who sees in the pair an innocent way of living he wishes he could reclaim for himself. Gene would like to get out of the "racket" business but knows his life depends on staying "in." He does try to subtly back the gang off from a jewelry store robbery, but Rocky plunges ahead without Gene's knowledge, using the oblivious Tommy and Nancy to distract the employees. Unfortunately Rocky refuses to adhere to Gene's code of not killing anyone in the commission of a crime...

THE PAY-OFF was really almost two movies in one, packed into 72 minutes. The Tommy-Nancy story is frankly annoying; Nixon and Janney are little more than cartoon characters in their roles, with zero depth. It also didn't help that every time Nixon opened her mouth and a high-pitched squeak came out I thought of Betty Boop!

Sherman, on the other hand, was very interesting as Gene, and the gangster movie scenes were quite entertaining. (Sherman reminded me a bit of another actor from that era I enjoy, Edmund Lowe.) If a different story had been created around Gene, it would have been a very good pre-Code movie. As it is, viewers should be forewarned about the juvenile depictions of Tommy and Nancy, but it's still worthwhile and I enjoyed it.

Leading man Sherman also directed; he draws a fine performance from himself and some of the supporting players, just not Nixon and Janney.

I've previously reviewed other films directed by Sherman, including THREE BROADWAY GIRLS (1932) and BORN TO BE BAD (1934). Sadly, he died of pneumonia in 1934, only 46 years old.

THE PAY-OFF was filmed by J. Roy Hunt.

As with the other films in the RKO Classic Adventures collection, the print is quite good; the soundtrack is also crisp for its age. Overall, the set provides classic film fans with an enjoyable look at films from the early sound era.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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