Sunday, April 10, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Romance in Manhattan (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

At the end of March the Warner Archive Collection celebrated its 13th anniversary. It's hard to believe so many years have passed since its founding in 2009! So many good movies have been released in the years since it all began.

One of the pleasures of the Warner Archive, thanks to its deep library of manufactured-on-demand releases, is the ability to do "deep dives" into the careers of numerous filmmakers.

In the case of favorite Ginger Rogers, the Warner Archive carries films which she made for Warner Bros., RKO, and MGM. Over the last few years just a few of the Rogers movies I've watched and reviewed here via the Warner Archive include PROFESSIONAL SWEETHEART (1933), IN PERSON (1935), HAVING WONDERFUL TIME (1938), LUCKY PARTNERS (1940), TENDER COMRADE (1943), and WEEK-END AT THE WALDORF (1945).

The latest Rogers film I've watched is ROMANCE IN MANHATTAN (1935), an RKO film which was first made available from the Warner Archive in 2012. I've just now caught up with it for the very first time, and I found it a particular delight.

Francis Lederer plays Karel Novak, a Czech immigrant who is going to be deported from New York as he doesn't have enough cash on hand due to a recent change of immigration law. Karel jumps off the ship which is going to return him to Europe, losing his wallet with the money he did have in the process.

Tired and hungry, Karel chances to meet chorus girl Sylvia (Rogers) over an unattended box of donuts, and Sylvia gets the bright idea that Karel might land his first job through her young brother Frank (Jimmy Butler). The enterprising Frank delivers newspapers -- and his daytime sales hours have gotten him in trouble for truancy from school.

Karel begins selling papers while Frank is in school, then works his way up to becoming a taxi driver. Sylvia lends him blankets to sleep on the roof of her apartment building, and Karel is able to steadily bank money, hoping to clear himself with immigration authorities by showing them he has the required cash.

Things get difficult when Sylvia loses her job; Karel, who has come to feel that Sylvia and Frank are family, depletes his savings to help, and when Frank goes back to selling papers during the day, the truant officers follow through on taking him away from his 19-year-old sister's care.

A judge (Oscar Apfel) says that Frank will be able to return to Sylvia when she gets married one day and has a more stable home...and Karel, having come to love Sylvia, decides it's time to clear his name with immigration once and for all so he can marry Sylvia and reunite her with Frank.

This 77-minute film is a truly charming movie. The film is closely focused on the relationship of Karel and Sylvia, which oh-so-slowly moves from friendly to close and eventually to love. It plays out in a very natural and believable way which is a pleasure to watch.

I've always loved Ginger, while Lederer has been a more slowly acquired taste. He was finally a hit with me in William Wyler's THE GAY DECEPTION (1935), released the same year, and he's wonderful in this as the irrepressible Karel, convinced that hard work can take him anywhere in the United States, even during the Great Depression.

It's also a nice story of community, as the grudging relationship Karel has with the local beat cop, Officer Murphy (J. Farrell MacDonald), slowly turns to friendship and trust. Eventually Karel visits Murphy at his home to get his advice on applying for a marriage license, and when things go south with an immigration attorney (Arthur Hohl), Murphy and his fellow cops come to Karel's rescue.

With the serious themes which precede it, the film's ten-minute comedic finale is an absolute delight, as a cranky police sergeant (Sidney Toler) and cop (Paul Hurst) put the fraudulent attorney through the wringer and work with Murphy toward a happy ending. When they roust a justice of the peace out of bed in the middle of the night and it turns out to be Donald Meek, could there be a more perfect '30s movie?

The story is a bit of a fairy tale, but on the other hand, some of the issues the film addresses, such as immigration and education, are still very much in the forefront of news today, close to nine decades later. Contemplating these topics while watching gives the film a bit of added depth.

A postscript on young Jimmy Butler, who also played William Powell as a boy in MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934): He served in the U.S. Army and was killed in action in France in February 1945; he is buried in France. Butler's final film was an uncredited role as one of the students in GIRL CRAZY (1943).

ROMANCE IN MANHATTAN was directed by Stephen Roberts and filmed by Nicholas Musuraca. The screenplay was written by Jane Murfin and Edward Kaufman from a story by Norman Krasna and Don Hartman.

The Warner Archive print periodically has some vertical lines and flaws, but nothing which interfered with my enjoyment of the film. The soundtrack is solid. There are no extras on the disc.

For more on this lovely film, please see a review by my friend Kim at her blog I See a Dark Theater; she shares more of the plot, so those who prefer fewer spoilers might wish to read it after watching.

Coming in the future: A review of Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant in the Warner Archive release ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON (1942). (Update: Here is that review!)

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive DVDs may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where DVDs are sold.


Blogger Brittaney said...

This is one of my favorites. Lederer's portrayal of irrepressible joy over an immmigrant's experience with America is so charming.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm so glad to know you like this one too, Brittaney! That's a great description of his performance. I really liked it and will definitely be rewatching it in the future.

Best wishes,

6:58 PM  

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