Big City Blues, 1932

Big City Blues - Released Sept 18, 1932. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy

The bleak pre-code seriousness of the film's tale of a gullible rural youth traveling to the land of his dreams, New York City, where he is promptly fleeced, something he happily cooperates with, and then he is (accidentally) framed for murder, something that sends him into panic. This is serious enough for a tale, but the movie operates on two mismatched levels. Guy Kibbee and Walter Catlett both play the film as a comedy. Star Eric Linden goes through the whole film as a wide-eyed innocent who treats Joan Blondell as if he has never seen a girl before (maybe he hasn't, the only family we see him leaving behind in Hoopersville, Indiana, is a loyal dog and two cranky old men who run the train station). The scene with the old men and the lonely train station is only important because at the end this is where the star is heading back, and we can only hope someone there might take him aside and insist on his maturing a bit before returning to the Big Apple.

The Mervyn LeRoy direction is efficient (it has to be, the entire movie clocks in at only 63 minutes) but the hybrid love story/mystery/comedy and the darkness of the murder never gels into anything in particular, just an off-kilter gritty drama with sometimes funny lines.

'Chorus girls used to get pearls and diamonds,' Blondell's jaded character Vida says. 'Now all they expect is a corned beef sandwich.'

Joan Blondell shoots her sarcastic lines with the same sure articulation as she does in her other early-1930s films from Warner Brothers, but she isn't really the star (though she has top billing on the poster) and her character has no purpose except to be visual artifice and the unlikely guardian angel who helps the impossibly gullible Eric Linden to get his tuckass out of town after his city adventure has turned into disaster.

Humphrey Bogart has a few scenes and has the same edgy way of delivering lines that he would perfect as the older Bogart in Warner Brothers Casablanca and Maltese Falcon.

The murder-mystery in Big City Blues has a convenient solution that requires no effort (except for opening up a broom closet door where Guy Kibbee hides his liquer).

The "Big City Blues" plot and story

Eric Linden (Bud Reeves) inherits $1100.00 and promptly declares he is moving to New York City and leaving Hoopersville, Indiana, far behind.

When he arrives he locates his Cousin Gibboney (played by Walter Catlett who portrays a similar fast-talking character in Capra's 1936 Mr Deeds Goes to Town) who immediately begins to talk the naive boy out of his money, mostly for squaring debts Gibboney had previously been ducking.

In the process, Bud meets the street-wise chorus girl Vida (Joan Blondell), and when Gibboney puts together a drinking party with bootleg liquer in Bud's hotel room, Vida attends along with a half-dozen of Gibboney's ne'er-do-well friends in tow.

A very young Humphrey Bogart is Atkins, a young tough who gets into a tug-of-war over a passed out girl with the drunken Sully (Lyle Talbot). The two men begin fighting, and it tears the hotel room part, and finally a hurled bottle accidentally kills the object of their fight (Josephine Dunn).

Cousin Gibboney and crew flee the hotel room, leaving a bewildered Bud alone with the corpse. Vida is halfway to the street before she has an attack of sympathy, and returns to spirit Bud from the hotel. Shortly thereafter hotel dick Hummell (Guy Kibbee) calls in the police.

Bud wanders the city, wanting to get a bus back to Indiana, but the police are looking for him. He falls into the company of a middle-aged woman in a speakeasy, and she helps Bud search for Vida. Once located, Bud and Vida end up in a casino, where Bud loses the rest of his money, and shortly thereafter he and the rest of the people from the hotel room are in the custody of the police. The police arre certain Bud is the murderer of the dead girl, but the hotel detective (Kibbee) clears the matter up when he finds the actual accidental killer (Sully) hanging dead in a broom closet of the hotel.

Only three days have passed, and Bud is now penniless and on his way back to Indiana. As the film ends, he is pledging to save his money and return to New York to pursue Vida.

About the Film

This 63-minute film is based on the 1932 play New York Town by Ward Morehouse (which in fact probably never appeared onstage anywhere), and was released by Warner Brothers on September 18, 1932.

Original Page April 17 2014 | Updated March 2018

What's Recent