Angels Over Broadway (1940)

Angels Over Broadway (1940)

“That’s New York for you: put you on a Christmas tree, and then in the alley.”

Synopsis:
An alcoholic, has-been playwright (Thomas Mitchell) offers valuable jewelry to a suicidal embezzler (John Qualen) who has joined forces with a con-artist (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) and an aspiring performer (Rita Hayworth) in pulling off a gambling grift — but will their elaborate ploy work out or cost them their lives?

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Review:
Ben Hecht wrote and directed this compact, humanistic thriller about a quartet of down-and-out individuals finding each other one evening and conspiring to pull a fast one on fate. Memorable character actor John Qualen (a long-time fixture in John Ford films) is given a meaningful leading role, albeit one which is quickly rivaled by Mitchell’s likeably boozy wordsmith. The series of events that unfold move quickly, and, as Bosley Crowther wrote in his glowing review for The New York Times: “…it is beautifully compact. Between dark and dawn [Hecht] has set a spare and enormously suspensive story that is as neatly fitted as an O. Henry fable.” Lee Garmes’ cinematography is appropriately atmospheric, highlighting the unique sets and claustrophobic setting within which this tale plays out.

Note: Hayworth sounds eerily like Marilyn Monroe at times — though perhaps the comparison is an apt one.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the small ensemble cast

  • Lee Garmes’ cinematography

  • Atmospheric sets
  • Ben Hecht’s screenplay

Must See?
Yes, as a nifty little flick.

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One thought on “Angels Over Broadway (1940)

  1. Agreed, must-see – as a rather unique ’40s flick, and for the ensemble playing of the four main actors. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Somebody get me a drink, this is too funny!”

    ‘Angels Over Broadway’ (1940): Ben Hecht wrote, produced and (with his terrific DP Lee Garmes) directed this 79-minute gem that you’ve probably never heard of. Perhaps influenced by the type of material served up by Damon Runyon, ‘Angels’ sets off its plot in the kind of nightspot that Broadway folk of the period might gather in. The story takes place during a night of torrential rain that doesn’t let up; it’s the kind of night that seemingly would bring luck to no one. Thrown together illogically (in the way that only a clever mind could concoct) are four desperate drifters: an embezzler (John Qualen – who, that same year, gave another memorable performance as Earl Williams in ‘His Girl Friday’), an alcoholic, O’Neill-esque playwright (Thomas Mitchell, typically strong), a business hustler (played with oily confidence by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) and an aspiring actress (a somewhat-unglammed Rita Hayworth, sporting an adorable Brooklyn accent). Once the masks they initially present to each other are removed, this quartet joins together to get Qualen out of a jam in a way that could benefit all four. Therein lies the subsequent suspense of how they pull things off. Hecht generously gave each actor moments to individually shine, often shading their characters with the kind of dialogue that reflects the times we’re not on to ourselves (i.e., “Gee, I must be nuts. I tag after you like a puppy and every time I look at ya, I get sore. Tie that.”). Though it’s a fairly simple film, it’s actually an even stronger one on a second viewing. Definitely different and unique – with surprising layers of payoffs.

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