The Widow from Chicago 1930

Two detectives, played by John Elliot and Harold Goodwin, board a train in pursuit of a gangster, who is played by Neil Hamilton. Hamilton is travelling to New York to work for Edward G. Robinson, a notorious gangster who owns a nightclub. Hamilton jumps off the train near a bridge crossing and since no trace of him can be found the police believe him to be dead. Goodwin assumes Hamilton’s identity and joins Robinson’s gang but is quickly discovered to be an imposter and shot.

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Determined to find out who killed her brother, Alice White poses as Hamilton’s widow and attempts to get a job at Robinson’s nightclub. Hamilton eventually shows up and White is almost exposed as an imposter. Hamilton, however, is eventually persuaded by White and he promises not to tell Robinson the truth. White and Hamilton fall in love. During a hold-up, White protects Hamilton by shooting at a cop in the back. Hamilton begins to think of reforming due to White’s influence. White eventually gets Robinson to confess that he shot her brother by pretending to be interested in him. She leaves the phone off the hook while the police listen in on his confession.

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When the police show up, Robinson realizes what White has done and uses White as a shield against the police but Hamilton manages to save White and Robinson is forced to surrender to the police.

Preservation 

A 62 minute version of the film survives and has been broadcast on television and cable. Due to the public’s backlash against musicals late in 1930, all of the musical numbers were cut from the film to make it more marketable.

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These cuts accounts for the short length of the film. The film was advertised as a gangster picture, a genre which had become very popular with the public. The complete musical film was released intact in countries outside the United States where a backlash against musicals never occurred. It is unknown whether a copy of this full version still exists.

The Widow” 1930  towers over Little Caesar  1931 

And I’ll support that conclusion. However, I must preface my commentary by acceding to a predilection for Alice White’s performances. I adore her no-apologies-for-pert, straight-ahead style that was the antithesis of ‘real’ actors who rolled their R’s and eyes at every opportunity.

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We are introduced to Polly (Alice White) and Jimmy (Harold Goodwin) as new tenants by the neighbors’ gossiping. Are they married? The question remains unanswered until just before Jimmy, the precinct’s newbie detective, leaves for work. The clever script puts a smile on your face just as Jimmy waves at his sister, Polly from the street, and becomes a drive-by shooting victim.

The scripts’ powerful counterpoints and wit are enhanced by director Edward Cline’s smart pacing and Sol Polito’s brilliant photography.

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The avenging Polly, masquerades to mob boss Dominic (Edward G. Robinson) as the widow of a dead associate of the gang. But she becomes trapped in his office when the ‘widow’s husband returns from the dead. When Dominic goes out to meet him, we are left with a great insert of the edge of the office door. Slightly ajar, we watch it in anticipation while Dominic meets Polly’s ‘dead’ husband. Will she make a break for it? Will Swifty confront her? Your mind races as the camera holds on that door. It’s bravura filmmaking, and Cline keeps it coming. By the way, Polly embraces her ‘husband’ whispering “go along, I’m on the spot”. The excitement’s just beginning, Swifty is only too happy to go home with his ‘wife’.

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Neil Hamilton handles his role as Swifty Dorgan with effective menace, and Polly goes from being on the spot in Dominic’s office to being in a spot behind her own (now locked) door. Frank McHugh’s got a fine bit as one of Dominic’s hentchmen ‘Slug’, and advises his fellow thug, Mullins, to give up the girl he can’t get along with. Slug’s smugness melts, however, when Mullins returns the girl’s key only to discover the key is to Slug’s girlfriend’s apartment.

Earl Baldwin’s script has plenty of sparks left, and Polito takes the shootout in the dark to a new level when a spotlight is introduced: not only being shot at, but everything its prowling eye touches gets killed. You’ll wonder why Little Caesar is famous after seeing this terrific gangster film.

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