Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Pay-Off (Lowell Sherman) ***

Director: Lowell Sherman

Cast: Lowell Sherman, Marian Nixon, Hugh Trevor, William Janney, Helene Millard, George F. Marion

Background: Lowell Sherman was a veteran actor from silent films dating back to 1914. When the talkie era began, he decided to try his hand at directing. This would be his third film as writer and star.

Story: Crime boss Gene Fenmore (Sherman) doesn't approve of one of his cronies robbing from a poor young couple. He takes the couple in and looks after them, while trying to instill a sense of decency among the gang. However, that doesn't go over well with Rocky (Trevor), who has his own ideas of how the gang should be run, and is ready to do it.

Thoughts: This is a fun little film that takes a different approach to the gangster genre. Lowell Sherman does a terrific job playing a very different crime boss than you usually see. It's a very laid back performance, but still manages to contain enough gravitas to make you believe that he can wield as much power as he does. His care for the young couple (despite the awful acting from these two) who have been caught up in the mess is actually very touching and I sympathize with his desire for the gang to use their brains when pulling jobs, instead of their guns. It's easy to root for him against the mindless thugs that are trying to take over his operation. Like many of the early sound films, the flaws come down to wooden performances (from the supporting cast), poor sound quality, and a very static visual design. However, Sherman's performance is memorable enough to make this work.

Postscript: Sherman would focus on directing and he made 12 films over the next 5 years. Among them was Morning Glory, which won Katharine Hepburn her first Oscar.

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