The Secret Six (1931)

After rising bootlegger Slaughterhouse Scorpio eliminates his gangland competition, two reporters and a cabal of six businessmen work to expose him.

I saw this recently on TCM and was quite impressed. This film came before the better known gangster movies of that era– “Little Caesar,” “Public Enemy,” and, the greatest of them all– “Scarface.” It was also made at a time when sound recording technology for motion pictures was very new and still in development. The first talkie gangster movie, which happened to be the first all-talkie movie, was “Lights of New York,” made in 1928. In that film the equipment was so clunky that the actors had to speak loud and slow and stay close to the microphone. By 1931, several improvements had come along, but it was still a difficult technical achievement to make a film like this.



There is a scene towards the beginning where Ralph Belamy, who does a great job as a sinister hood, fires a tommy-gun in a night club and kills a guy. Then, he and his cohorts run out and jump in a car. The rival gang pursues them, firing their own tommy-gun. Finally, the rivals crash. But during the chase scene, we are taken through city streets, with the cars running fast and the machine guns blazing. Granted, this was done much better a year or so later in “Scarface,” but this film set the precedent.

The film is also worth seeing for the Clark Gable role. He shows the charm that made him a star. Harlow is also great as the moll. For a film made that long ago– at the very beginning of the sound era– it is well worth viewing whenever it appears again on Turner or any other channel.


During the filming, Irving Thalberg had scenes added to bolster Clark Gable‘s part, and he was given an MGM contract after shooting was completed.

After previewing Warner Bros. upcoming releases of “Public Enemy” and “Little Caeser,” MGM production chief Irving Thalberg commissioned writer Francis Marion to come up with MGM’s first real “talking” gangster picture.
The murder of Johnny Mack Brown’s Hank character is reminiscent of the sensational murder of Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle, who had ties to organized crime, in 1930, but instead of being shot on the subway as Brown is, the real Lingle was gunned down in a tunnel leading to the train.
The first of six films co-starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.
‘The Secret Six’ was a name coined by Chicago Tribune reporter James Doherty to six influential Chicago businessmen (including the president of Sears- Roebuck)who organized the business community against Al Capone and were instrumental in obtaining his conviction on tax evasion.
After Wallace Beery spits a mouthful of chewing tobacco presumably on the floor or in a spittoon, two drools continue out of his mouth and onto his collar. As this was likely not in the script, it can be assumed this was left in on purpose.
The $20,000 per year Ann states that she pays for rent on her apartment would equal about $312,000 in 2016.
The $3,600 that was on Scorpio when he checked into jail would be about $56,000 in 2016. Back then it was easier to carry around such sums as U.S. currency had bill denominations above $100 – as seen by the $1,000 bills in the cigarette cases Scorpio passed out as bribes.
Poster - Secret Six, The_02

A pretty good gangster movie…

Author: DH (CityofNY) from New York
2 June 2000

This movie is a thinly veiled attempt to portray the life of Al Capone. The violent rise and fall of the gangster, portrayed by Wallace Beery, the taking over of the government of an adjacent small town, the eventual tax problem that Beery’s character has…these and other subplots are mirror images of Capone’s Chicago. While not as well known today as “The Public Enemy” or “Little Caesar”, this movie is definitely worth watching. It also features a very young Clark Gable is a supporting good-guy role and, of all people, Ralph Bellamy as a gangster.



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