They Never Come Back (1932)
Director: Fred Newmeyer
Cast: Regis Toomey, Dorothy Sebastian, Edward Woods
Synopsis: Prizefighter Jimmy Nolan, facing an opportunity to get a championship fight, is knocked out when he sustains what is apparently a permanent injury to his arm.
In 1931, Warner Bros cast Eddie Woods in the part of Tom Powers in William Wellman’s gangster movie The Public Enemy, but after a few days of filming it became obvious to Wellman that Woods had been miscast and that the actor cast as Powers’ best friend was in fact more suited to the lead role. Wellman decided to reshoot their scenes with Woods in the ‘best friend’ role and his co-star in the part of Powers. That co-star was James Cagney (White Heat) who, on the strength of his performance in The Public Enemy went on to forge an enduring career in Hollywood. One year after making The Public Enemy, however, Woods was reduced to supporting roles in low-budget movies like They Never Come Back for Poverty Row studios like Supreme Pictures. Such were the cruel breaks in Hollywood.
They Never Come Back is an unremarkable, formulaic B-picture, displaying no ambition but a level of proficiency which at least makes it watchable. Regis Toomey (The Big Sleep) plays Jimmy Nolan, a boxer whose career is dealt a terminable blow on the night he discovers his mother has died — ‘cheer up and snap out of it,’ advises his trainer upon hearing the news — by an arm injury which robs his left arm of its power to punch.
Nolan takes a job as a doorman at a club owned by Jerry Filmore (Earle Fox). Filmore’s club has a dance floor about the size of your bathroom on which Adele Landon (Dorothy Sebastian) sways in a grass skirt with her fellow dancers. Of course, Nolan takes an instant shine to her, but Filmore is also keen on her, and doesn’t take kindly to Nolan muscling in. So, when $500 goes missing from the club’s takings one night, Filmore makes sure that it’s Nolan who takes the fall for it.
Despite its brief running time of just 64 minutes, there’s plenty of padding in They Never Come Back (which is a reference by one character to injured fighters who try to return to the ring), and what plot it has is strictly by-the-numbers predictable. The acting ranges from passable (Toomey — who would enjoy a long career as a character actor in both movies and TV) to awful (Gertrude Astor — who would be playing mostly tiny uncredited parts within a couple of years of this movie). The only thing that sets They Never Come Back apart from the countless others churned out by cheap Hollywood studios during the 1930s and 40s is the fact that it features former World Heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries — whose bouts provided the infant movie industry with some of its earliest subjects — in a small role as the referee of Nolan’s fateful fight.
(Reviewed 18th January 2014)