DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

THE HOUSE ON 56TH STREET (director: Robert Florey; screenwriters: Austin Parker/ Sheridan Gibney/from the story by Joseph Santley; cinematographer: Ernest Haller; editor: Howard Bretherton; music:  Bernhard Kaun; cast: Kay Francis (Peggy Martin),  Frank McHugh (Chester Hunt), Gene Raymond (Monte Van Tyle), Ricardo Cortez (Bill Blaine), John Halliday (Lyndon Fiske), Margaret Lindsay (Eleanor Burgess), William Boyd (Mr. Bonelli), Hardie Albright (Henry Burgess), Sheila Terry (Dolly, a Sextet Girl), Phillip Reed (Freddy), Walter Walker (Dr. Wyman), Nella Walker (Mrs. Van Tyle), Henry O'Neill (Attorney Baxter); Runtime: 69; MPAA Rating: NR; Warner Bros.; 2014)

"Its weepie, hard-luck, story is hard to swallow without suspending belief."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A pre-Code melodrama effectively directed by Robert Florey ("God Is My Co-Pilot"/"The Beast With Five Fingers"/"Danger Signal"), nevertheless its weepie, hard-luck, story is hard to swallow without suspending belief. It somehow in sixty-nine minutes crams 25 years of life in for the New Yorkers, who live in the titled house. The house serves as a metaphor for the main character Kay Francis, the hot glamor actress of the 1930s. Writers Austin Parker and Sheridan Gibney adapt Joseph Santley's story to the screen.

Peggy Martin (Kay Francis) is a 1905 chorus girl who dates a confirmed bachelor Lyndon Fiske (John Halliday). But she marries the rich gentleman Monte Van Tyle (Gene Raymond). They honeymoon in Paris and Venice, and when they return they live in a luxury house on 56th Street that he purchases as a wedding gift for her to live in forever. Though his family disapproves, she soon wins them over as she fills the role of a society woman by throwing parties and as a mother when she gives birth to Elizabeth. Peggy Visits a depressed Lyndon in the hospital, who shoots himself after she refuses to see him again. Somehow she gets convicted of manslaughter. While in prison Peggy learns her husband was killed in the war. After serving twenty years she's released from prison in 1925. Hubby's mom has told her daughter, now a young adult, that her mom has died and gives Peggy $5, 000 to disappear from their lives and to forget about the house her hubby gave her as a wedding gift. Running away on an ocean-liner, Peggy meets crooked professional gambler Bill Blaine (Ricardo Cortez) and they partner in gambling scams. Two years later Peggy learns from a newspaper story that her daughter Elizabeth (Margaret Lindsay) has married. The house on 56th Street has been sold and is turned into a speakeasy and a casino. Peggy is the hired blackjack dealer of the new owners. When Peggy finds her daughter gambling in the casino, she teaches her a lesson about the evils of gambling, as she takes her for 15,000 dollars. When Peggy asks the underworld boss Bonelli (William Boyd) to tear up her I.O.U. he refuses, and he gets Peggy's husband Bill to collect. The desperate Elizabeth kills him, and Peggy destroys the evidence. She allows her daughter to cash in the chips and go on a planned cruise with her hubby to Europe. Meanwhile Bonelli figures things out and blackmails Peggy to work permanently in the gambling house on 56th Street or else he'll rat her out.

REVIEWED ON 1/29/2015       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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