For Reel

The Public Menace (1935)
March 18, 2012, 9:04 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Erle C. Kenton

Made on the cheap by Columbia Pictures, The Public Menace is a tightly-constructed, highly entertaining screwball comedy featuring the delightful Jean Arthur in top-billing. After taking a break from Hollywood and refining her talents on Broadway, Arthur was offered a contract by Columbia in late 1933, where she would work on programmers of this breed before breaking out with a series of Frank Capra blockbusters. The Public Menace sees her as a manicurist aboard a cruise ship who, for reasons never made clear, has lost her citizenship and wishes to make a new life on land. She bribes an opportunistic journalist into marrying her by promising that she has the evidence that will lead to the breaking of a major story. The screenplay, written by Ethel Hill and Lionel Houser, might stumble with the exposition, but it deftly juggles the genres of the newspaper film, the gangster thriller, and the romantic comedy. In progressing two plot lines concurrently – one, the developing romance between Arthur and her co-star, George Murphy; the other, a thought-to-be dead gangster on the rise – director Erle C. Kenton builds suspense in teasing when the paths of the characters will inevitably intersect. While he doesn’t have much of a reputation today – perhaps due to his politics (he infamously said that Mexicans were genetically suited to farm labor before serving on the United States Senate from 1965 – 1971) – George Murphy was an able leading man who did well as foil to great comediennes, such as Ginger Rogers in the charming Tom, Dick and Harry.

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