ANGELS OVER BROADWAY
US, 1940, 80 minutes, Black and white.
Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell, John Qualen, George Watts, Ralph Theodore.
Written, produced and directed by Ben Hecht.
Angels Over Broadway is an offbeat written, produced and directed by playwright Ben Hecht (whose biography was presented in Norman Jewison's film Gaily, Gaily). Hecht had written a great number of films and also directed the two short stories, Actors and Sin.
The film plays like a theatre piece. Douglas Fairbanks Jnr is a conman in New York. Thomas Mitchell is a variation on Eugene O'Neill. Rita Hayworth, in an early role, is glamorous as a girl on the make. John Qualen is effective as a timid man accused of embezzlement wanting to get his money back.
The film's action takes place overnight - Qualen needing to find the money, wanting to commit suicide, by accident encountering the playwright, the conman and the girl - and finishing up winning money from the Mob to repay his debt.
The film has a black tone about American society - with the ironic touches of religion and providence and people being saved as well as doing good for one another.
1. Interesting drama? Of the early '40s?
2. Ben Hecht and his tradition of film-writing, his being responsible for this film? The film as a play? The dialogue, the characters - and the cast? Black and white photography, an atmosphere of New York and Broadway?
3. The title, Gene and his wings in the theatre and his comment on angels over Broadway? Providence - despair and hope?
4. Bill and the voice-over, his financial situation, wanting a con trick, contacting the Mob and the gangsters? The encounter with Engel - and his wanting to set him up? His intruding on Nina and her plans for advancing her career? The attraction between the two? Dancing together? The encounter with Gene, his drinking, discussion? The plan, the discovery that Engel had no money, wanted to kill himself? The set-up and his having to go through with it? Gene and his ingenious plan? Going to the hotel, contact with the Mob, setting up Engel with the game? His nervousness? The clash with Nina and abusing her - the reconciliation, love for her? Engel coming back to the room, being followed by the bouncer? His trying to escape - Bill doing the good deed, bashed for Engel's sake and saving him? The finale, the encounter with Nina - and chasing her? A possible future?
5. Nina, a callgirl, the restaurant, wanting to further her ambition on stage? Her line in picking up men, talking with Engel? The encounter with Bill, trying to get the producer for the evening? Bill's interrupting? The talking with Gene, the discovery of the truth? Going along with the plan? Her concern for Engel, for Bill, his insulting her, the reconciliation and a future?
6. Engel, his embezzling the money, writing the suicide note, Hopper and his domineering? Demanding the money? Engel going to the restaurant, the heavy tip, people presuming he was rich? The mix-up with the coats? His talking with Nina, with Bill? Gene and his wanting to save the day, getting the brooch from Sylvia? Hopes - and the irony that it was imitation jewellery? Engel's despair? Gene's plan about the gambling, his steeling his nerve, playing along with the gangsters, beating them at their own game? Taking the money, trying to escape? The pursuit - and his being arrested? The irony of his ringing his boss and being vindicated? The timid little man, love for his wife, her abandoning him, the loans and the stealing? His being saved?
7. Gene, the variation on Eugene O' Neill, his spouting rhetorical dialogue on the meaning of life? The coat, meeting Sylvia and the memories of his relationships? Phoning his wife - and Nina hearing him? The coat and the note, trying to help Engel, the confrontation with Sylvia and getting the brooch - and the irony of its being fake? Helping Engel in preparing the card game? The visit to the theatre - and the wings and Angels Over Broadway? His collapse - not remembering things, going home to his wife?
8. Hopper, the demanding boss, his greed?
9. The gangsters, the gambling, brutality, set-ups with people like Bill? The bouncers? The fighting, the shooting? The police?
10. The film as a kind of morality fable of its time - effective in the '40s? Now?