Manhattan Melodrama - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Manhattan Melodrama Reviews

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Super Reviewer
August 1, 2013
Manhattan Melodrama is famous for being the last movie that infamous bank robber John Dillinger saw before being gunned down outside the Biograph Theatre on July 22nd 1934. Obviously I was interested in seeing the film due to its history surrounding that legendary showing. This is a brilliant gangster film that is a defining classic of the genre. Brilliantly acted by Clark Gable, this is a must see for cinema buffs who enjoy classic films that helped defined the genre. Before there was The Godfather, there was this film. Clark Gable is impressive here and the story is quite good and highly engaging. This is also a must see for people that are fascinated with John Dillinger because I feel that in some way, this movie is part of his legacy. Nonetheless, the plot is engaging and like I said is a classic gangster picture that would pave the way for all to follow. I really enjoyed the film, and felt it was very different from other films in the genre. In that respect, it is a film that helped shape the crime genre. Manhattan Melodrama is filled with action, drama, a good cast and effective pacing to really make this stand out. I really enjoyed the film and thought it was an entertaining gangster film, definitely among the finest in the genre. There are of course better genre films, but Manhattan Melodrama is a worthwhile viewing experience that should definitely thrill the diehard cinema buff. W.s Van Dyke has crafted a memorable and historically significant picture that stands out even by today's standards.
Bill D 2007
Super Reviewer
September 4, 2011
"Manhattan Melodrama," which won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, is yet another 1930s gem that I've found lately. First was "Dancing Lady," then "Hell's Angels," and now "Manhattan Melodrama." The 1930s were a golden age of American cinema, and I've barely scratched the surface of it. How exciting it must have been in that era to work in the movies.

Clark Gable (who was also in "Dancing Lady") and William Powell play men who've had a life-long bond. They were orphaned together on the same day in a terrible boating accident. One is studious and upstanding (Powell); the other (Gable) is a drop-out who got into bootlegging and gambling.

When the studious one becomes Manhattan District Attorney, his close friendship with a gangster becomes a problem. When their lives begin to intersect more, including sharing a woman (played wonderfully by Myrna Loy), the complications multiply. It's a fascinating, pretty serious drama that I can't imagine would disappoint anyone. It's also briskly paced, brilliantly edited, and perfectly directed (by W.S. Van Dyke). Highly recommended.

Incidental note: Gangster John Dillinger saw this movie the night he died. He was shot by FBI agents as he exited the theater. I can certainly see why he would have been attracted to this movie. It's a complex portrait of a boy born on the wrong side of the tracks.
Super Reviewer
½ September 3, 2010
I'm not sure why this film is talked about so much, it isn't very different from other gangster movies of the time. There are some good actors in the movie, though, the best thing about this movie was the actors.
Super Reviewer
½ March 24, 2009
Notorious but very hokey drama. Gable exudes charisma and star quality but Powell is just too good to be true and Myrna Loy is surprisingly arch and affected. A bad performance from a usually stellar actress.
Super Reviewer
½ June 12, 2007
The first non-Thin Man Powell/Loy movie I've seen. It took me a little while to get over the lack of snappy banter between them and even though the chemistry between them here is lacking a little, they were still good together. Gable was charismatic, Loy was as always luminous and Powell was his usual likable self. The last 20 minutes didn't sit right with me as far as Gable and Powell's characters went. Powell was too absolute and Gable was too jolly, even when facing the electric chair. Van Dyke's direction was great, namely with the opening sequence--as jarring as it was. Fun piece of trivia with this movie--this is the movie John Dillinger saw right before the police gunned him down. Apparently he was a huge Myrna Loy fan, so beauty killed the beast here.
Super Reviewer
June 23, 2007
Will always be remembered as the flick Dillinger saw the night he was shot and killed. It deserves another look though. It does include some features that are worth remembering for posterity. Rodgers's and Hart's tune Blue Moon, here with different lyrics identifying it as The Bad in Every Man, is sung in The Cotton Club and later is played in the background of the prison scene. A thirteen-year-old Mickey Rooney plays the younger version of Clark Gable's character. Several leisure activities of the early 20's are shown, such as going to boxing matches, horse races, and hockey games. Spud (Pendleton) and Annabelle (Jewell) are a comic couple as a lunkhead bruiser and ditzy moll. The characters are all easily recognized types, but they are entertainingly used to tell the story. I love the way dialog sounds in these movies of the 1930's. The leads, Gable, Loy, and Powell deliver lots of witty repartee. We start in 1904 on New York's Eastside on a big wheel paddle-boat. Blackie (Rooney) is always looking to have fun, win bets, and protect smaller kids from big bullies. Jim (Butler) is studious and cautious, yet will join his friend Blackie in fighting off bullies. A fluke tragedy strikes and we see the first instance of melodrama with the boys crying as they become orphans. Sixteen years later in 1920, Blackie (Gable) owns a speakeasy gambling joint and Jim (Powell) has earned a law degree. Blackie is still endlessly lucky and crime seems to have paid for him. Jim is about to be elected District Attorney, and a couple years later he'll become New York's Governor. They maintain their friendship until Blackie's crooked ways make it impossible for Jim to look the other way. Myrna Loy as Eleanor starts as Blackie's flame, but once she meets the impossibly principled Jim, she gives up the riches and good times Blackie offered her for the domestic life of a political figure's wife. Courtesy of the Hays Code the ending and in fact many of the scenes seem to be playing it incredibly safe. It doesn't feel real that Blackie and Jim sustain such charismatic class as, respectively, a sacrificial lamb and an unimpeachable upholder of the law. The movie does do a lot of things right though.
Super Reviewer
October 8, 2009
This movie is probably best remembered for the fact that it was the last movie Johnny Dillinger saw before being shot dead outside the theater (as depicted in the film Public Enemies). Outside of that infamy it isn?t really remembered as well as other gangster films of the era like Little Ceaser, The Public Enemy, and Scarface. Perhaps part of what?s responsible for the film?s relative obscurity is that it has a horrible title (although I suppose it?s a fairly accurate description). Also I think it might have to do with the fact that its star, Clark Gable, isn?t really known as a tough guy the way James Cagney or Paul Munni were. That would seem to suggest that he was miscast, but that isn?t really the case, because his character is pretty different from those guys, and he was also pretty different from John Dillinger. This wasn?t the kind of guy who would be driving around robbing banks himself. He could certainly handle a gun but for the most part he was more the kind of gangster who would control a vast empire, the kind of guy who would rather run a phone scam than personally rob a bank.

The film?s relative obscurity is unfortunate because it?s actually a pretty strong work. The film?s story is pretty intriguing, pitting two child friends on opposite sides of the law against each other. Not exactly the most original set up in the world but there?s still drama to it. The film also interestingly ends with a moral dilemma rather than a shootout. Gable proves to be a strong lead, and it interestingly also features Mickey Roony playing Gable as a child. There are some of the typical problems that Hollywood films of the era had to deal with, but for a film made in ?34 it seemed fairly modern. If you?re going to get shot over a movie, this is a pretty good one to do it for.
Super Reviewer
July 4, 2009
As I learned from Robert Osborne prior to watching this film, this was the last film John Dillinger saw before he was gunned down outside the movie theater. Was it worth the risk? I would say so! Gable and Powell are lifelong friends who took different paths - Gable a gambler and Powell a D.A. As expected, the two become on opposite sides of the law when Powell has to prosecute Gable on murder charges. The strength of their bond never weakens even as Powell marries Gable's gal, played by Loy. A great story about morals, friendship, and love. The performances are outstanding, and the start of many great movies with Powell and Loy.
Super Reviewer
January 28, 2008
A little too much melodrama, but you put Gable,Powell, and Loy in a film then its GOLD. Alot of fun to watch.
February 9, 2015
1) the star power here doesn't triumph over the script, but it does enhance some decent material to be highly entertaining stuff of the second name of the title (all three, Gable, charming as fuck, Powell, a much different turn than the Thin Man but just as awesome, Loy, who is spellbinding) fine and believable and make the stuff... human And even raw)

2) isn't it kind of ironic that Dillinger saw THIS movie, with Gables character and what happens to him, and then met his end immediately after ?
½ April 26, 2011
"Melodrama" Is Right

There are several reasons this movie might be considered worthy of note. It was the first pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy. It is the only pairing of William Powell and Clark Gable. It is a film wherein Micky Rooney achieves every boy's dream of the time and grows up to be Clark Gable. But what it is known for, what it will always be known for--the reason I was myself so looking forward to seeing it--is that it was the film playing at the Biograph Theater on July 22 that year. John Dillinger, on the lam, took an evening out for the movies and thus had possibly the most American of all deaths when he walked out of a movie theatre and was shot. I know very little about Dillinger the man; I know about Dillinger the character played by Johnny Depp. But I suspect that John Dillinger, had he known what waited for him on that hot Chicago street, would not have been as noble as Clark Gable is at the end of this one.

The story starts with a real tragedy in at least two senses--the sinking of the [i]General Slocum[/i] in the East River. Two boys, "Blackie" Gallagher (starts, as I said, as Mickey Rooney and becomes Clark Gable) and Jim Wade (Jimmy Butler and then William Powell), are both orphaned in the disaster and taken in by an old Russian Jew, Poppa Rosen (George Sidney). They grow up together, but Poppa Rosen is also killed. Blackie is a happy-go-lucky kid with all the luck in the world. He gets by on scams, and they do pretty well for him. Jim, however, studies and works, eventually getting through law school and joining the District Attorney's office. On the evening Jim is elected DA in his own right, Blackie sends his girlfriend, Eleanor Packer (Loy), over to congratulate Jim. She is taken by Jim's manner and leaves Blackie for him. But of course the two men must inevitably clash, as Blackie is a criminal and Jim is a prosecutor.

The film seems to come down pretty firmly on the "nature" side of the equation. Jim and Blackie have the same mentors, and they are raised in the same environment. However, the two boys have very different drives. Blackie runs an illicit gambling parlor. Jim wants to root out the kind of corruption that lets there be a token raid on it every six months which doesn't really change anything. Jim becomes a shoeshine-boy while Blackie is relying on his uncanny luck with the dice. They love each other like brothers, but at heart, they are opposed. It isn't Poppa Rosen who caused that, or even Leon Trotsky (Leo Lance). (Did you know Trotsky lived in the Bronx for a while? Was living in New York when the Tsar was overthrown?) It isn't kindly old Father Joe (Leo Carillo). Blackie is just a crook at heart, and Jim is just a law-bringer. Blackie doesn't take anything too seriously, which is why Eleanor leaves him. But she isn't too pleased with the fact that Jim takes everything seriously.

But of course the men are also tied by loyalty. In his speech before the jury when Blackie is on trial in the murder of Richard Snow (Thomas E. Jackson), Jim tells the jury that he saved Blackie's life when the [i]General Slocum[/i] went down and that it pains him now to ask for the death penalty for his friend. What he does not know is that Blackie killed Snow because Snow was going to use the men's friendship to keep Jim out of the Governor's Mansion. Eleanor asked him to help, and his "help" was killing Snow. But it's what he thought was best. It's what he thought would help his friend. And it did--prosecuting Blackie for the murder, getting the death penalty, is what propelled Jim into that job. The thing is, of course, that Snow was right. Jim was failing to act on evidence which probably would have sent someone else to Death Row because he couldn't believe Blackie did it. I don't think it was intentional, but I think it was a certainty that Blackie wouldn't just kill a man. Turns out Jim was wrong.

It's a bit of a hokey film, probably worth more for historical importance than anything else. I really don't know what Trotsky had to do with much of anything or why Poppa Rosen had to die in that stampede. There were a lot of little touches which seemed merely intended to add poignancy. (The friend from childhood who ends up working for Blackie; the girl who thinks Blackie will treat her better than he treated Eleanor.) And I think the entire final five minutes of the piece would have been better left on the cutting room floor. I think they may well have been added so we don't idolize Blackie too much. How Hollywood treated gangsters was becoming a Thing by 1934, which the movie indirectly acknowledges. But the scene, which I think is also intended to make Jim look more noble and less like a stuffy prig, fails at that. It doesn't make Eleanor look so hot, either. Except inasmuch as it was impossible to make Myrna Loy look anything but hot. The most believable part of the piece is that both men would love her.
½ February 24, 2010
A story of friendship to the bitter end. Watch for young Micky Rooney as a child actor in the first 15 minutes of the film.

Orphans Edward "Blackie" Gallagher and Jim Wade are lifelong friends who take different paths in life. Blackie thrives on gambling and grows up to be a hard-nosed racketeer. Bookworm Wade becomes a D.A. vying for the Governorship.

As orphans, two boys grow up and become successful. One illegally and the other legal. At the pinnacle of their lives, things catch up with both. Gable is never better as Blackie, the ammoral killer, watching out for himself all the time. Powell comes off as some sort of unhandsome boob as a result. With a face like William Powell you'd better not be acting beside Gable.

Gable steals the show as the devil may care free spirit, while Powell takes the honest road to his fame and ultimate demise. But Loy is pretty much played the same throughout, first a lover of Gable and when that plays out, a lover of Powell. How convenient for the studio, if she fell for the janitor we would have no movie.

I want to say this film was pretty rocky to get through the first half. This era of film making just doesnt get traction with me. But it recovers in the last third and makes it worth watching. Gable comes through the true star he was to become in Gone With the Wind.

Wrote one reviewer:

"This plot is now screamingly familar but, back in 1934, this was original. In fact it won the Best Original Story Oscar for its year. This could have been a real howler but a great cast, tight script and wonderful direction really put it over. Well worth catching--especially for a powerful climatic scene between Powell and Gable. A classic of its type."

NOTES about the film:

1 The film's success surprised the studio and made stars of Myrna Loy and William Powell in the first of their fourteen screen pairings. It also solidified the success of MGM's most popular male lead, Clark Gable.

2 The movie entered history as being the last motion picture seen by the notorious gangster John Dillinger, who was shot to death by federal agents on July 22, 1934, after leaving a Chicago theater where the film was playing. Myrna Loy was among those who expressed distaste at the studio's willingness to exploit this event for the financial benefit of the film.

3 Arthur Caesar won an Academy Award for Best Story for this film.

4 One of the very early films of Mickey Rooney


Clark Gable as Edward J. "Blackie" Gallagher
William Powell as James W. "Jim" Wade
Myrna Loy as Eleanor Packer
Leo Carrillo as Father Joe
Nat Pendleton as Spud
George Sidney as Poppa Rosen
Isabel Jewell as Annabelle
Muriel Evans as Tootsie Malone
Thomas E. Jackson as Asst. Dist. Atty. Richard Snow (as Thomas Jackson)
Isabelle Keith as Miss Adams (as Claudelle Kaye)
Frank Conroy as Blackie's Defense Attorney
Noel Madison as Manny Arnold
Jimmy Butler as Jim Wade as a Boy
Mickey Rooney as Blackie as a Boy *************
Shirley Ross as Singer in Cotton Club

Directed by W. S. Van Dyke
Produced by David O. Selznick
Written by Arthur Caesar (story)
Oliver H. P. Garrett
Joseph L. Mankiewicz

93 min - Crime | Drama | Romance - 4 May 1934 (USA)
½ October 11, 2010
I haven't seen this movie in years. I rented after seeing clips of it in the movie Public Enemies. This movie starts out as a young Blackie (played by Mickey Rooney) and his best friend Jim Wade (Jimmy Butler) are on a boat with their families. The boat catches on fire killing their parents leaving them orphans. Blackie(Clark Gable) grows up and runs an illegal casino and Jim Wade(William Powell) becomes the DA. Both fall for the same girl (Myra Loy) who marries Jim Wade because Blackie is not ready for comment and spends no time with her. The friendship they have is put to the test.
This is a great movie. The actors are awesome in this film. This is the last movie John Dillinger watched before his death.
February 25, 2010
The plot is very familiar, but keep in mind, in 1934 it was not an often used one, and it is rarely done as well as in Manhattan Melodrama. You can't beat the terrific cast - Myrna Loy, William Powell, Clark Gable, even Mickey Rooney in a small early role. The usual top notch MGM production, excellent screenplay, great score. A wonderful film. Interesting trivia, this is the movie John Dillinger was watching on the night he was killed exiting the theater.
July 20, 2009
Very choppy at the beginning, and then slow going toward the climax. However, the last half of the movie is where the three leads work their magic and suck you in to caring about each of their circumstances. The ending sequence nearly brought me to tears.
½ July 3, 2009
There are no truer friends than Blackie (Clark Gable) and Jim (William Powell). A friendship forged by tragedy during their childhood - they both remain loyal to each other even when their lives take very divergent paths - and on opposite sides of the law. The street smart Blackie becomes a very successful operator of a speakeasy - while the bookish Jim ends up as the district attorney. Myrna Loy plays Blackie's free-spirited girlfriend, Eleanor - hmmm, a sure source of a conflict of interest, if there ever was one...!!!
It's Gable who comes out as a very charismatic character in this. A "bad guy" with a heart of gold...almost too good to be true. Nothing seems to faze him - not even when he...well, see for yourself...!

This is the first of many films which pairs Myrna Loy with William Powell. Their very next film after this will be The Thin Man - and the rest is history.
Mickey Rooney has a small but memorable role playing the young Blackie - and boy, does he give it his all.

The tragedy dramatized at the very beginning of the film involves a ferry boat in which there were many fatalities. It was New York City's single worst tragedy prior to 9/11.
½ July 1, 2009
This film is one of the best i've seen from either Gable or Powell, but especially William Powell. His performance was so convicting along with the direction and screenplay. For 1934, it sure was realistic with hardly any melodramatism in this dramatic masterpiece from the Gangsert Era.
June 16, 2009
Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

Blackie Gallagher (Clark Gable) and Jim Wade (William Powell) were childhood friends, orphaned by the General Slocum ship disaster, that have grown to become opposite ends of the law. Blackie is the charming bad boy casino owner with the heart of gold while Jim became the District Attorney. Naturally, you know that Jim is going to be trying Blackie for murder. Ironically, it was a murder that would help Jim become Governor of New York.

Eleanor (Myrna Loy) seems to spend most of the movie running back and forth between these two men depending upon what they do next. Yes, everything is exaggerated emotions and interpersonal conflict. Oh well, but I guess that this makes for good melodrama.

Of course this movie was most renowned as the movie that famous gangster, John Dillinger saw before he was shot down outside Chicago's Biograph Theater.
½ January 11, 2009
Melodrama is right. Heavy-handed and tedious at times, this film is a surprising disappointment, considering how much I love Powell, Loy, Gable, and director Van Dyke. I almost feel sorry that this was the last movie Dillinger had the misfortune to see before he was gunned down outside the Biograph.
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