Roxie Hart (1942)
“The low-down story of a high-class gal!”
Director: William Wellman
Cast: Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, George Montgomery
Synopsis: In 1927 Chicago, the body of a theatrical agent is found in the apartment of his client, would-be dancer Roxie Hart (Ginger Rogers), who lives with her husband, Amos.
It’s a shame 20th Century-Fox couldn’t get someone like Preston Sturges to direct Roxie Hart. William Wellman’s a great director, but he was always better at action than comedy, and although the movie is reminiscent of one by Sturges it never quite reaches the dizzying heights that could have made it a classic.
Ginger Rogers plays against type as a brash, gum-chewing working class dancer who finds herself caught up in a media frenzy when she confesses to a murder for the sole purpose of becoming famous rather than feelings of penance. In that respect, the movie is as relevant today as it must have been back then, and goes to show there’s nothing new in the world — just the same old excess served in a different format. Back then, judges and lawyers posed self-importantly in the background of newspaper photographs, today they tweet comments or post on Facebook.
Roxie’s represented by a hotshot lawyer named Billy Flynn, who boasts he can save anyone from swinging. The part of Flynn is played by Adolphe Menjou, who relishes the opportunity and sinks his teeth with relish into a conveyor-belt of witty one-liners. Handsome George Montgomery’s blandness is for once appropriate for the role of the callow journalist through whom the story is told, and who provides the ‘sort-of’ love interest for Roxie. He also serves as her ultimate punishment for the crime she committed.
Roxie Hart contains a number of laugh-out-loud moments, and never drops its pace for a moment — which explains a relatively brief running time. As a common girl of easy virtue Rogers is an almost unrecognisable revelation after all those movies in which she played elegant society dames in the 1930s. The movie deserves to be better known, and had it been made by Sturges or Wilder it would be.
(Reviewed 15th August 2013)