Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bulldog Edition (Republic, 1936)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Bulldog Edition, a 1936 movie from the early years of Republic, when former Mascot studio head Nat Levine was still chief of production, cut down to 53 minutes for a 1950’s TV sale — though it didn’t suffer much because the original movie was only 58 minutes long anyway. It had an odd story credit — Richard English and Karen DeWolf were credited with the script from English’s “original” story, but the credit just below that said it was based on “Back in Circulation” by Danny Ahearn — and the film opened with the same gimmick as the 1937 Warners film Back in Circulation (which credited its story source as Adela Rogers St. John’s Cosmopolitan story “Angle Shooter,” published after Bulldog Edition was released!): Randy Burns (Evalyn Knapp), cartoonist and courtroom sketch artist for the New York Daily News, sees a signal from the courthouse where gangster and political boss Niki Enright (the marvelous Cy Kendall) is being tried — a window goes up in the jury room, which she’d bribed a juror $100 to serve as a signal that Enright had been convicted.

Only the rival paper, the Post (odd in a 1930’s movie to see the names of two real New York papers used!), bribed the same juror $200 to send a false signal, and when the actual verdict comes in and Enright is acquitted the News has to send out its distribution people to grab every copy of the incorrect edition and promise corrected papers later. There’s a rivalry between the News’s circulation manager, Ken Dwyer (Ray Walker), and the editor, Jim Hardy (Regis Toomey), with Ken insisting that the only reason the News is selling papers is because of the circulation stunts he’s pulling, which seem to consist mainly of sponsoring what would now be called “reality” shows on radio — including the finale of a “Happy Couples Contest” in which, in the film’s most entertaining sequence, an argument between the members of one of the supposedly happy couples snowballs into a big fight scene that livens up the otherwise empty radio studio and brings the contest into a spectacular but unintended finish. The movie, directed by Charles Lamont with “supervision” by William Berke, goes into some pretty hairy territory, as Enright gets so concerned about the possibility that the News will expose him and he’ll get charged with a crime he can’t weasel out of that he has the News’s distribution trucks waylaid and their papers burned (something that must have been a shocker to some audiences who’d seen the book-burning scenes from Nazi Germany).

Randy serves a three-day sentence for contempt of court for refusing to reveal her sources for her anti-Enright stories, and while in jail she meets up with Enright’s ex-girlfriend Billie (silent-era veteran Betty Compson) and gets the story that finally nails him. It all ends with Randy collapsing, Jim and Ken both trying to revive her, and her agreeing to marry Ken. Bulldog Edition is a lot of good ideas for a movie uneasily stuck together, and it suffers from the actors available to Republic at the time (though it antedates the Warners’ Back in Circulation by a year, one still can’t help but think how much better this movie would have been with Joan Blondell in the female lead!) as well as a script that offers some audacious ideas but can’t link them into a coherent story.