Night After Night (1932)
“Danger Lurks – Romance Flames – Excitement Plays in Joe Anton’s Place “Night after Night””
Night After Night (1932)
Director: Archie Mayo
Cast: George Raft, Constance Cummings, Wynne Gibson
Synopsis: A successful ex-boxer buys a high-class speakeasy and falls for a rich society girl, who doesn’t know about his past. Complications ensue when some ex-girlfriends from his boxing days show up.
Although he was a major star of the 1930s, George Raft lacked the kind of personality enjoyed by such contemporaries as James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, and the way that he is so easily overshadowed in his first starring role by extravagant debutante Mae West pretty much explains why he isn’t held in such high regard today. Raft would later joke that West “stole everything but the cameras,” but despite her hijacking of his picture, the pair remained friends throughout their lives, even appearing together forty-six years later in West’s final movie, the sorry 1978 musical comedy Sextette.
Raft (The Bowery, Rogue Cop) plays Joe Anton, a former boxer who has given up fighting to run a high-class speakeasy. Now, though, Anton’s grown tired of the endless round of socialising and alcohol, and longs to better himself. He’s even employed the services of matronly Miss Jellyman (Alison Skipworth – Alice in Wonderland, Satan Met a Lady) to help him improve his diction and conversation skills, although the challenge seems to be a little beyond them both. The only bright spot in Joe’s life is Miss Jerry Healy (Constance Cummings), a beautiful but forlorn young lady who, for the past three nights, has visited his place alone. It turns out that the house that Joe has converted into his speakeasy is the same one in which she was born, and that she has returned to reminisce as she considers whether to accept a marriage proposal from wealthy socialite Dick Bolton (Louis Calhern – Blonde Crazy, Heaven Can Wait), whom she doesn’t love, but who can offer her the kind of privileged lifestyle she once enjoyed before falling on hard times. With the help of Miss Jellyman, Joe hopes to impress Miss Healy, but his plans are jeopardised by the untimely arrival of one old flame (Mae West – She Done Him Wrong, I’m No Angel), and the deadly jealousy of another (Wynne Gibson).
Night After Night is a competent but rather flat comedy-drama until West arrives to liven things up. As the first lines of a movie career go, there can’t be many more memorable than West’s response of “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie” to a hatcheck girl’s exclamation of “Goodness, what diamonds!” and her act isn’t as affected as it would quickly become. One can only imagine the impact she had on audiences largely unfamiliar with her brassy routine, especially as her act is less affected than it would quickly become (in fact, within a couple of years she would had become a gaudy parody of her former self). There’s also something appealing about the childlike enthusiasm and optimism of Raft’s character, although he sometimes struggles to switch smoothly between the comical and more serious demands of the role. Alison Skipworth is fun as Joe’s ever-so-proper teacher who gets swept up in the excitement of her pupil’s world, but if it weren’t for her and West, Night After Night would be a deservedly forgotten example of a production-line studio movie filmed with more of an eye on fulfilling a quota than producing anything of creative worth.
(Reviewed 23rd March 2016)