The Romanticizer of the Mob Meets the Romanticizer of the Common Man
Damon Runyon wrote, in many ways, very silly stories. I've read some of them out of idle curiosity, and I rapidly came to the conclusion that no one talks like that. For one thing, in Runyonland, nobody uses contractions. They also speak in a very stilted way. It does have a rhythm all its own which can be a thing worth listening to at times, though I can't duplicate it myself right now (haven't seen [i]Guys and Dolls[/i] recently enough, clearly), but it can also distract from the story. He also saw criminals, pretty much all of them, as being honourable and decent guys who happened to operate on the shadier side of the law. Everything they did, they did with great nobility and the best of intentions. Their crimes were really capers, with its implication of silliness. Oh, sure, they'd bet on horses or fleece the odd square, but it was all in good fun!
Apple Annie (May Robson) has been lying to her daughter, Louise (Jean Parker), for years. Her daughter believes she's living a life high in the social whirl of upper class New York, whereas Annie is, in fact, an apple seller in Times Square. Her daughter sends her letters at a fancy hotel, and they're smuggled to her by . . . I kind of missed who. Anyway, one day, she gets a letter saying that, by the time she receives it, Louise and her fiancÚ, Carlos (Barry Norton), will be on a boat from Spain, where Louise has lived all her life. They are coming because Carlos's father, Count Romero (Walter Connolly), wants to vet his son's bride's family and see that they're up to his standards. The panhandlers of Manhattan rally to her, and they get Dave the Dude (Warren William), a Runyon racketeer, to arrange things so that Annie can present the proper face to her daughter. Conveniently enough, a friend of his has an apartment in the very hotel Annie has been pretending to live in all these years, and things go from there.
I am extremely curious as to how the situation with Louise started in the first place. The father is brought up once and brushed aside, and why Louise was sent to a convent in Spain is left sort of vague. I mean, I suspect she was sent to a convent because Annie wasn't married to the father, but why Spain? Come to that, how Spain? Was Annie living abroad at the time? Europe would have been a very complicated place for a woman alone at the time Louise would have been born. (Assuming character and actress were the same age, admittedly not reliably a safe assumption, Louise would have been born during the height of World War I.) I suppose a convent girl might somehow be considered respectable enough to be associated with a rich man's son, and Annie says she's sending all she can afford to Spain for her daughter's upkeep, but how much is that really? She seems to be doing some sort of shady work for Dave the Dude on the side, but like all Runyon crime, it's left vague, so how much can it pay?
The combination of the two men makes for a world not quite like that of either of their individual ones. Oh, Runyon quite likes the redemption of the human spirit in his own way, but his way isn't like Capra's. Capra's Dave the Dude would be redeemed by his good acts, but Runyon's just keeps going on with what he's doing. Since the Code was still mostly being ignored in '33, that's fine. Louise is probably the only truly pure character in the film, but there is, after all, Louise. Another thing which makes it more Capra than Runyon is the focus. Capra prefers to spend time on Annie; May Robson has the honour of being one of the first people to lose Best Actress to Katharine Hepburn. Runyon is probably responsible for the time spent on Dave the Dude, but of course neither man is much interested in his girlfriend, Missouri Martin (Glenda Farrell). Though I think perhaps in pure Capra, Dave the Dude would have married her at the end.
The end is, of course, saccharine already. Well, it is Capra, for all the Runyon. On the other hand, it has a perverse believability. What Annie is doing, while dishonest, is trying to do the best possible thing for her daughter, trying to give her the life Annie dreams of. Things are about to get very difficult in Spain, but the first half of the twentieth century wasn't fun in much of anywhere in Europe. It's charming, though. The idea that a racketeer and his gang, a bunch of panhandlers and a pool shark, would do something so charming for a woman living such an elaborate lie is heartwarming, really, and it's believable that people would want to be involved. It's one night, one lie, and there's a Spanish count involved. Americans, for all our empassioned superiority in our democratic (really republican, though both lowercase) form of government, have a weak spot of aristocrats. Even if it's for countries we don't really respect. After all, how many Americans even knew where Monaco was before Grace Kelly married into its royalty?