Manhattan Melodrama (1934) Review

Manhattan Melodrama (1934)  Director: W.S. Van Dyke and George Cukor (interim)


Based on a story by Arthur Caesar, Academy Award-winner Manhattan Melodrama is a somewhat boasts an all-star cast of Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and William Powell. It was the first of fourteen pairings between Myrna Low and William Powell. One of the chief points of note regarding Manhattan Melodrama is that the famous mobster, John Dillinger, attended a screening of the film in Chicago 1934. It was reportedly the last film he ever saw, as he was promptly gunned down by federal agents while leaving the theatre. To the dismay of the actors in Manhattan Melodrama, especially Myrna Loy, the film production company exploited the event for press coverage. As a general rule, controversy sells. In contrast to the controversy, I found this film to be mostly forgettable.

In Manhattan Melodrama, two young boys named Jim and Blackie (played by a young Mickey Rooney and Jimmy Butler) are rescued by a priest when a ship catches fire outside New York, causing it to sink. The boys are then taken in by a Russian immigrant who dies while protesting a Trotskyite communist rally in New York. As they grow, the boys lead separate lives while remaining close, one rising to the role of governor (Jim, played by William Powell), and the other becoming an infamous mobster as well as casino magnate (Blackie, played by Clark Gable). They also both fall in love with the same woman (Eleanor, played by Myrna Loy). Blackie is eventually and tried for murder (an act which he did, in fact, commit) and he is sentenced to the electric chair. There is a brief tender moment at the end wherein Jim and Blackie reconnect and Jime offers to commute Blackie’s sentence, but he declines the offer. In the end, Jim resigns his post and his old friend is tragically electrocuted.

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