DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
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PENTHOUSE (director: W.S. Van Dyke; screenwriters: Frances Goodrich/Albert Hackett/based on the story in Cosmopolitan magazine by Arthur Somers Roche; cinematographers: Lucien Andriot/Harold Rosson; editor: Robert Kern; music: William Axt; cast: Warner Baxter (Jackson Durant), Myrna Loy (Gertie Waxted), Charles Butterworth (Layton), Mae Clarke (Mimi Montagne), Phillips Holmes (Tom Siddall), C. Henry Gordon (Jim Crelliman), Martha Sleeper (Sue Leonard), Nat Pendleton (Tony Gazotti), George E. Stone (Murtoch), Robert Emmett O'Connor (Lt. Stevens), Raymond Hatton (Bodyguard), Arthur Belasco (Bodyguard); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hunt Stromberg; MGM; 1933)

 
"It's a good preview for the upcoming superior series of The Thin Man."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

A snappy pre-code comedy mystery drama from W.S. Van Dyke ("Manhattan Melodrama"/"Naughty Marietta"/"San Francisco"). It's based on the story in Cosmopolitan magazine by Arthur Somers Roche, and is written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Since it's a pre-code film, it's more racy than the films that followed a year later and were subjected to Hollywood's self-imposed censorship code. Myrna Loy has a starring role after being in 70 prior films and mostly going unnoticed by the public and suffering by being typecast as a "bad girl." This Depression-era fluff film was an excellent showcase for the future big star, as this sophisticated film with a New York-flavored witty dialogue paved the way for her portrayal of Nora Charles in The Thin Man series that was also directed by Van Dyke, whereby she became a household name and built a rep as a pleasing light comedienne playing all-American ladies.

Amiable racketeer Tony Gazotti (Nat Pendleton) is grateful that society lawyer Jackson Durant (Warner Baxter) goes slumming and helps him beat a murder rap, and promises to do him any favor he asks for. The gangster gets that chance when Jack's old-fashioned society law firm boots him out because they don't want to be associated with his gangster clients and Jack is asked by his former snooty blueblood fiancée Sue Leonard (Martha Sleeper), who also gives him the boot for defending an undesirable element, to defend her new society boyfriend Tom Siddall (Phillips Holmes) on a murder charge.

Tony hooks Jack up with the loose-living Gertie Waxted (Myrna Loy), who is best friends with the gold digging nightclub hostess Mimi Montagne (Mae Clarke) and lives in the same Crelliman owned luxury building as the murder victim, across from Crelliman's penthouse apartment. Mimi was dumped by the Park Ave. socialite Tom and wants to get even with him, as she returns to her former crime kingpin boyfriend Jim Crelliman (C. Henry Gordon). Gertie was at the penthouse party Crelliman gave when Mimi was talking with an irate Tom about a money settlement on the terrace, when a shot rang out and she was dead and Tom was found holding the murder weapon.

With the help of Tony's information network, the support of his police friend Lt. Stevens (Robert Emmett O'Connor) and Gertie's grit, knowledge of Crelliman's associates and street smarts, the brilliant mouthpiece figures out how Tom was framed by the crime lord Crelliman and tricks the actual contract killer into confessing to the police.

The story is nothing special and its view of gangster life is artificially sugar-coated to make the gangsters divide up into the Damon Runyon likable types and the Damon Runyon unlikable types, but its rapid-fire on target delivery is entertaining and it's a good preview for the upcoming superior series of The Thin Man.

This film was later remade as Society Lawyer (1939).

REVIEWED ON 10/5/2010       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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