Monday, June 26, 2017

Outside the Law (1930) (2017 restoration by Universal)

Outside the Law. Owen Moore (Harry "Fingers" O'Dell) and Mary Nolan (Connie).

De laglösas lag / Gli uomini della notte. Director: Tod Browning. Year: 1930. Country: USA. Section: Universal Pictures: The Laemmle Junior Years (Part Two).
    Scen.: Tod Browning, Garrett Fort. F.: Roy Overbaugh. M.: Milton Carruth. Scgf.: W.R. Schmidt. Mus.: William W. Hedgecock.
    Int.: Mary Nolan (Connie), Edward G. Robinson (Cobra Collins), Owen Moore (Harry ‘Fingers’ O’Dell), Rockcliffe Fellowes (agente O’Reilly), Delmar Watson (The Kid), Eddie Sturgis (Jake), John George (Humpy).
    Prod.: Carl Laemmle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. 35mm. D.: 75’. Bn.
    Release date: 18 Sep 1930. [The film was not released in Finland].
    From: Universal, a Comcast company.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    Cinema Jolly, e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti, 26 June 2017.

Dave Kehr (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "Like Lois Weber, Tod Browning had been under contract to the Universal Film Manufacturing Company in the 1910s, when he was frequently assigned to direct the studio’s important early star, Priscilla Dean. After a stint at MGM (where he often collaborated with a fellow Universal alumnus, Lon Chaney), Browning returned to Universal to direct this loose remake of his 1920 Dean vehicle Outside the Law, which features a pre-Little Caesar Edward G. Robinson as a cigar-chomping gangster who muscles in on a bank robbery being planned by an ambitious associate (Owen Moore) and his embittered, affectless moll (Mary Nolan)."

"The remake gives Browning full range to indulge his taste for the lowest orders of American society – in particular, that peculiar intersection of criminality and show business that is the American traveling carnival. The characters seem to have recently escaped from the sideshow of Freaks: in a brilliant, wordless opening sequence, Moore is introduced performing as a legless automaton in a department store window – a prime example of Browning’s disturbingly erotic obsession with amputation – while Nolan is discovered working as a scantily-clad model in a museum of ‘living paintings’ that is a thinly disguised burlesque show."

"Trying to hide out from Robinson, the couple disguise themselves as a pair of newlyweds, moving into a middle-class, ‘straight’ world that both attracts and appalls them. Newly restored in glistening 35mm, Outside the Law is arguably a more personal film for Browning than his next assignment at Universal – Dracula."
(Dave Kehr, Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: When Tod Browning's successful collaboration with Lon Chaney at MGM ended he was invited back to Universal Pictures to direct Dracula. But first Browning directed a remake of one of the Chaney-Browning hits at Universal, Outside the Law. The remake was released soon after Chaney's death. Edward G. Robinson now starred in the Chaney role as the brutal gangster Cobra Collins.

But the most startling performance in the film is by Mary Nolan as the other gangster's moll. There is an unsettling atmosphere of authenticity in her desolate presence. This is not entertainment, this is something genuinely disturbing. Nolan's character, Connie, seems to be hard-boiled beyond redemption. Her dismal, harsh laughter is unforgettable. Mary Nolan would have been a shocking presence even in a Russian film before the Revolution.

Yet the little lonely boy next door with his dog and puppies melt her and her gangster boyfriend "Fingers" O'Dell. When Cobra shoots lethally at the boy's father, a police captain, Connie and Fingers help save him.

There is a strange and unusual edge in this film about the underworld.

An excellent print of the newly restored version.


Cobra Collins, a gang leader, demands a 50-50 cut in the return from a bank robbery planned by "Fingers" O'Dell. Connie, in league with Fingers, makes the acquaintance of Cobra to throw him off the trail, but Fingers carries out the robbery and, with Connie, hides in an apartment. They make friends with a 4-year-old child only to learn that his father is a police captain living next door. Cobra discovers the location of their hideout and makes a call just before the police captain arrives; and in an exchange of gunfire, the policeman and both Cobra and Fingers are wounded critically. While Connie calls a doctor, Cobra searches frantically for his share of the money and dies trying to escape. When Connie and Fingers are brought to trial, they are given light sentences for having saved the life of the wounded officer.

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