It Doesn't Have to Make Sense; It's Runyon
I can never quite wrap my brain around the fact that Damon Runyon was born in Kansas. I mean, how does that even work? Damon Runyon defined a kind of New Yorker pretty much for all time, here. No, it's not one you'd actually want to spend a great deal of time with, it's true, but Damon Runyon made you believe you would. He made hoods, felons, con men, and bookies seem charming, whimsical fellows. You read his work, and you figure that even Queens is a far-away wonderland to these people, somewhere distant and exotic. It's hard to believe that Damon Runyon ever set foot more than a mile away from Times Square. And yet there it is. Manhattan, yes. Manhattan, Kansas. And then, for kicks, there is the fact that he lived in Colorado for a while. This is a man who knew more of America than most people from a first-hand experience. Let's face it, he lived in one more state than I have. And I've lived in one more state than the average person. And if he had lived in New Jersey, I would have accepted that with little more than a "huh." But Kansas?
Now that we've got that out of the way, let us examine the story at hand. Robert "Numbers" Foster (Scott Brady) is a math prodigy who has used that ability to go into bookmaking. Inspector McNamara (Michael O'Shea) is running an investigation into illegal gambling in New York, so Numbers books for Florida with Harry "Poorly" Sammis (Wally Vernon) and various other members of his organization. His girl, Yvonne Dugan (Marguerite Chapman), testifies that he is completely innocent of everything, and even though no one believes her, on account of she's lying, it is now safe for Numbers to come back to New York. So it doesn't look like he was just lying low during the investigation, even though everyone knows he was, he and Poorly drive back. On the way, they meet Emily Ann Stackerlee (Mitzi Gaynor), a sweet, innocent Georgia girl who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jewel Staite. He and Poorly bring her back to Manhattan, because okay, and decide to get her a job singing and dancing. Yvonne is horribly jealous, and Emily Ann gets along beautifully with "52nd Tessie" Sammis (Mitzi Green). Will Emily Ann win Numbers and get him to go straight? What do you think?
There is this world which only exists in the writings of Damon Runyon. I mean, there is the fact that none of these people are ever actually doing anything really wrong. As I recall, it is seriously implied that "Big Jule" kills people or has people killed, and even the other thugs are afraid of him. (I haven't watched [i]Guys and Dolls[/i] in a while.) Curtaintime Charlie (Richard Allan) is a nobody hoofer who owes Numbers and company quite a lot of money, but they'll let him work off the four grand, no big deal! It's not like anybody's going to get hurt or anything, certainly not in a "kneecaps" kind of way. No, the only real threat is Inspector McNamara! What's more, ans while I love the language, no humans have ever talked like Damon Runyon characters, ever, unless they were reading the script to a movie based on a Damon Runyon story. No one ever uses the past tense, no one ever uses the future tense, and no one ever uses contractions. No one much uses one word when five would do.
Oh, and the story here makes sense in that world. So there's that. I mean, okay. It does make sense that Numbers doesn't want Emily Ann to stay in Georgia and get shot at, but I'm not a hundred percent sure what the heck was going on in Georgia. It seems as though someone wanted to force her into a marriage because he wanted to get married, and I guess Emily Ann didn't have much of an escape plan to get out of it. But running off with her to Manhattan was a bit of an odd choice, especially given that Numbers and Poorly thought she was about sixteen. (This is largely because she wore her hair in pigtails and was dressed like Dorothy Gale.) It's only when they found out that she was twenty that they started worrying about a possible Mann Act violation? Yeah, don't get that. Throughout the movie, people make decisions that are completely illogical, yet everyone treats it as perfectly normal. (Well, except Poorly, who is the only person who doesn't get why they're bringing Emily Ann to New York.) And the thing is, this is what happens in Damon Runyon stories.
Let's be honest with ourselves, here. If we're going with all-singing, all-dancing Damon Runyon, we really might as well go watch [i]Guys and Dolls[/i]. These characters do have the same sort of basic charm as those, but these are definitely not A-list stars. Nobody has ever gone to see a movie in excitement that Henry Slate is in it, is what I'm saying. Not unless they knew him personally. It's certainly cute enough, and Mitzi Gaynor wasn't a bad singer or dancer. However, there is the little detail that it doesn't make any sense and the fact that the crime commission subplot is fairly uninteresting. Yvonne doesn't get enough screen presence to be convincing either as Numbers' dame or as his downfall. And the resolution of her story doesn't have enough setup to make it anything other than jarring--except for the fact that it's the only possible solution to the situation. Unless maybe all those talent scouts Numbers looked up had been there for Yvonne instead of Emily Ann. But no; that would have made sense.