Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Me and My Gal

Io e la mia ragazza. US © 1932 Fox Film Corporation. D: Raoul Walsh. Based on the story Pier 13 di Philip Klein e Barry Conners. SC: Arthur Kober. DP: Arthur C. Miller. ED: Jack Murray. AD: Gordon Wiles. M: George Lipschultz. S: George Leverett. C: Spencer Tracy (Danny Dolan), Joan Bennett (Helen Riley), Marion Burns (Kate Riley), George Walsh (Duke), J. Farrell MacDonald (Pop Riley), Noel Madison (Baby Face), Henry B. Walthall (Sarge), Bert Hanlon (Jake), Adrian Morris (Allen), George Chandler (Eddie Collins). Premiere: 4 dicembre 1932. 35 mm. 79’. B&w. From: Twentieth Century Fox. Tuesday 26 July 2012, Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). E-subtitles in Italian.

Paola Cristalli: “Me and My Gal is the perfect title for this fresh, asymmetric film, so vivid and unbalanced, one of the rarities that our retrospective is proposing, almost unknown to audiences outside of the States and deeply admired by the most influential film critics. Me and My Gal, and that is about all. Of course, there is a harried parallel plot of gangsters returning from the past of a brunette secretary who then gets involved in a bank heist, but even that story gets overshadowed by what really counts: the heated skirmishes and saucy banter between the cop played by Spencer Tracy and the clerk, Joan Bennett. Walsh indulges Tracy from the first scene to the last – conceding a long, splendid, meandering opening, which defines a brusque, good-hearted, sharp-witted character.

“When he gets promoted from dockside cop to detective, it is because he saved a barfly from drowning just after a round of verbal jousting (“Go back to your wife!” “But I’m not married!” “What a lucky lady…”). Bennett, for her part, is all an allusion, a snappy wisecracking, a provocative gum-chewing, she’s a mischievous sharp-shooter with a wavy blond bob."

"There are moments in this movie where the mastery of the dialogue and the witty theatre of desire are in perfect harmony with the best romantic comedies of the early 1930s – with an added experimental fervor. I will limit myself to mentioning the scene in which, as their two bodies are glued together on the sofa in a way that a fully working Hays code would have never allowed on screen, Tracy and Bennett talk about themselves and their dreams while their off-camera voices recount what the two of them are really thinking – almost exactly as Woody Allen would do a halfcentury later in Annie Hall."

"And I will leave the word to the great American film critic and artist, Manny Farber: “In 1931 he directed his best film, Me and My Gal, an unpredictable jauntiness built around a dubious theme: ‘Life is sunny, if you don’t stir it up’. A suspended moment of grace for Walsh and Tracy, when newness and budding maturity were clicking for them […] It is only fleetingly a gangster film, not quite outrightly comic: it is really a portrait of a neighbourhood, the feeling of human bonds in a guileless community, a lyrical approximation of Lower East Side and its uneducated, spirited stevedore-clerkshopkeeper cast. Walsh, in this lunatically original, festive dance, is nothing less than a poet of the American immigrant”. Paola Cristalli

AA: Me and My Gal and Marius, made a year before, might make an interesting double bill. Me and My Gal is an ensemble piece, an example of unanimisme, a contribution to Raoul Walsh's continuing New York saga (which includes Regeneration, The Bowery, Gentleman Jim, and Strawberry Blonde, among others). As Manny Farber says above, Me and My Gal is fleetingly a gangster film, but perhaps a bit more than fleetingly. Kate Riley is hopelessly drawn to the gangster Duke Castanega. Duke's prison escape and his hiding in Kate's attic provide suspense. Kate's father-in-law "Sarge" is a paralyzed, mute war veteran who has served in the signal corps. He is aware of what's happening and when Danny and Helen pay a visit he signals with his eyes in Morse code what's going on. Another interesting scene is the bank robbery with the ordinary family getting to witness how professional burglars break into the vault through their living room floor. The movie is well cast even to the smallest bit parts with sometimes incredible mugs appearing in the harbour district and its bars. Kate's wedding is a highlight in the picture. Although it's Prohibition, everybody is getting drunk. A recurrent figure is a desperately drunk barfly ("a good argument for Prohibition") who in one scene hits a customer on the head with a large fish. Especially well cast are the main roles with Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett who make a good couple, constantly provoking each other, but: "22 cups of coffee... marry me so I'll get some sleep". "I'm closing in before you close up". "From now on I'm Mrs. Sherlock". About Howard Hawks I think that even in a formulaic story he has the distinction of creating characters who enjoy being who they are, and consequently we enjoy sharing their company. Of Raoul Walsh a similar thing can be said, and defining the essence of Raoul Walsh would require defining the feeling of life, the sense of joy characteristic of him.

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