Central Park - 1932

Starring Wallace Ford and Joan Blondell

Central Park - Released December 10, 1932. Directed by John G. Adolfi

Wallace Ford and Joan Blondell are a pair of young people who meet in New York's Central Park. When we first see them they're both unemployed and hungry and staring hopelessly at frying sausages on a hot plate at a sidewalk food stand. When a moments distraction (someone throws a rock through the stand's glass window) allows Joan's character (Dot) a chance to steal a couple of sausages and pieces of flatbread, she then shares the meal with Ford's character (Rick) and a friendship starts up. Dot tells him how she has an appointment for a job and the two make a date to meet later at the park, where the destitute Rick has been sleeping.

The American "Great Depression" was in full swing in 1932 (though 1933 was a far worse year) when Central Park was made, and the unapologetically gritty situation depicted in the film has no problem putting forward ethical decisions about stealing and general lawbreaking: it might be okay to steal food, but not to rook a whole charity event. Joan's character discovers her new job is part of a plot by a vicious gang run by crook Nick Sarno (played by Harold Huber) to do just that.

Guy Kibbee is on hand as a veteran policeman (Charlie Cabot) who has only one week of duty left before he can retire with a pension. The only problem is that his eyesight is rapidly failing and he's in constant danger of being exposed as being unfit for duty.

All of our characters will crisscross one another repeatedly in Central Park as the heist plot to rob a charity event brings people and matters to a head. The story also includes a subplot about escaped lions at the Central Park Zoo (policeman Cabot likes to play with the cubs). A former zoo employee also appears here and there (actor John Wray), a somewhat crazy lion-lover who literally mails postcards and a box of chocolate to the felines. This serves to highlight not only is the character crazy but also the unique popularity of the Centra Park Zoo not just in New York City but across the United States (the lion "Nebo" will escape and prowl in part of the film).

In Central Park, Director Adolfi doesn't have a lot of runtime, the movie clocks in at a mere 58 minutes, but he and the cast make the most of it, though not with much finesse. The writers (Ward Morehouse and Earl Baldwin), besides bringing the romance between the two leads along in the usual fits, starts and stops, offhandedly contrast the understandable criminality of desperate and hungry (and attractive) young people swiping food against the cruelty of gangsters stealing money meant for charity work. But Central Park shows us that they're not just cruel for this act,but they're generally cruel all the way through, whatever they're doing. Adolfi and the screenplay gives the gang no sympathy, and though Warner Bros was quite capable of distributing gangster movies that at least marginally glamorized the style and lives of crooks, none of that is on screen here, just hard-hearted thugs using force to try and take someone else's money while the audience awaits the coming comeuppance.

In Central Park, Blondell is still early in her film career (but she isn't new to acting: she had been on stage almost since childhood) and here she is only 26 years old, but her character of a pretty, blonde-haired young woman with a heart of gold and a lot of fighting spirit is one she will have played many times before the decade ends (Blondell appeared in ten films in 1932 alone). Other actresses played similar characters, such as Glenda Farrell, who played a more sardonic and sharp-edged type versus Blondell's (they even appeared together in nine films) but both worked in the shadow of "the" Platinum Blonde, Jean Harlow.

Central Park shows the signs of being made quickly, though there are Hollywood recreations of some actual 1932 Central Park landmarks. We also get periodic process-background scenes in which we get to view true Central Park location photography running either as scene dissolves or as backgrounds for our main characters.

Blondell and Ford have to overcome the gang, and make choices about whether they're going to succumb to convenient criminality well beyond the necessity of stolen food. Of course we know how its going to turn out in this department, though Blondell might have to shake up Ford a time or two so that he gets it right (and so that she gets out of colluding with the gang).

Director Adolfi is hemmed in by his runtime and budget (and the script) but Ford and Blondell are the main feature in Central Park and they're both fun to watch.

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Original Page March 27, 2017 | Updated November 2023