Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Charles Farrell and Bette Davis

THE BIG SHAKEDOWN (1934). Director: John Francis Dillon.

Jimmy Morrell (Charles Farrell) owns a neighborhood drug store and employs his sweetheart Norma (Bette Davis) behind the counter. Along comes smooth operator and racketeer Dutch Barnes (Ricardo Cortez), who discovers that Jimmy can make toothpaste just the same and just as good as the best-selling brand. Jimmy agrees to go to work making duplicate toothpaste and other stuff for Barnes, but he assumes they'll be marketed under a new brand name. Instead Barnes simply puts the bogus stuff into tubes with the label of the original brand on them and distributes them as the real thing. Jimmy is nervous about this development, but he keeps making fake toiletries and cosmetics for Barnes to distribute, until one day Barnes decides to duplicate a famous antiseptic -- only without the specific ingredient that makes it antiseptic -- and there are worse things to come. The Big Shakedown has a good premise and there are some dramatic developments, but the picture doesn't present them with any flair or intensity. Farrell is fine, but while Cortez plays the very suave and polished villain with his usual aplomb, it's also a distinctly superficial portrait. This was one of the thankless roles that Bette Davis -- top-billed with Farrell although she hasn't much to do -- was handed in the early days. She looks cute and is quite adept; Glenda Farrell has a somewhat larger role as a girlfriend of Barnes' who gets into a zesty hair-pulling match with Renee Whitney as her rival Mae LaRue. Perhaps the best thing in the picture is Barnes' flamboyant death scene, even if it doesn't make too much sense. Many years later Charles Farrell was Gale Storm's father on My Little Margie; he was not related to Glenda Farrell.

Verdict: This had possibilities but it's nearly a snooze. *1/2.

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