5 star commentary for 4 star film
Douglas M | 04/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Smart Money" was the follow up film for Edward G. Robinson after his smash hit as "Little Caesar". This is a very rare film which has been unseen for years. Not only is it of interest to historians but it stands up very well today and is good entertainment. Released in 1931, some 5 months after the former film, it is a much better production in every way, although the story is tamer. Robinson plays a barber with a renowned gambling ability who hits the big city, funded by his friends from home and hoping to make a mint. The film traces his progress from small town hick to big city gambler but lacks the violence of "Little Caesar". Robinson himself requested that the more unattractive traits of his character be toned down and in this one, he is much more vulnerable and likeable, with a penchant for blondes. He is supported by James Cagney in his last supporting role. The film is very well directed by Alfred Green and is surprisingly detailed for a Warners film of this period, an A film, no doubt about it. The print is excellent.
The real gem of this DVD is the outstanding commentary which can be played with the film. Two erudite historians place the film squarely in its context: the advent of sound, Warner Brothers lead in recording, the pre-code aspects of the script and characters and finally, biographical information about the stars, all delivered and paced beautifully. Wow! The DVD also contains a crude trailer for "Other Men's Woman", another film with Cagney in a supporting role, a brief newsreel with a glimpse of Al Capone and a very old classic cartoon. There are two musical short films. The first stars the famous George Jessel who introduces a Russian choir with some starchy comedy. The other is much better - a neat broadway yarn with a long forgotten singer Walter O'Keefe, who has a great way with a song and can actually deliver dialogue. It is surprisingly good.
This is a very good DVD package, even better value if purchased as part of the Warner's Gangster Series, Volume 3.
Smart Money / Strange Movie
Dr. James Gardner | California | 02/17/2010
(2 out of 5 stars)
""Smart Money" is a strange movie, to say the least. It was made right after Edward G Robinson's breakout performance as Rico in "Little Caesar" (The G was for Goldenberg, his real name), and Warner Brothers was anxious to spin off another crime film with Robinson asap. But Robinson was not at all like Rico nor was he interested in making a career as a tough guy, so he demanded changes in the script of "Smart Money" to soften his image. The result is a script that shows Nick the Barber (Robinson's character) alternately being sweet and sour, friendly and psychopathic. Robinson occasionally falls into the "Yeah, that's right sister" accent that he used so forcefully in "Little Caesar" but then reverts to a caring sweet small town barber.
Robinson's character is not the only strange part of this film. Early on a woman comes to him and whispers in his ear and Nick hands her $100 bill (making one wonder how a small town barber has a $100 bill in his wallet). She walks up the street and hands the bill to Boris Karloff (an uncredited role even though he speaks several lines) who is lurking in the shadows (where else?), and then Karloff shows up in the back room of the barber shop where Nick and his friends are playing craps. Nick recognizes the $100 bill, forces Karloff to bet the entire sum, and then kicks him out when he loses. The two scenes make no sense and suggest that several more scenes were cut, which is possible when you consider "Smart Money" runs longer than "Little Caesar".
If these features aren't strange enough, we have Jimmy Cagney playing a supporting role. Cagney shot "Smart Money" while he was shooting "Public Enemy" and often had to run between the two sets (both were produced at Warners). Once "Public Enemy" came out, a few months after "Smart Money" debuted, Cagney became a major star and would never appear as a supporting actor again. In fact, even while "Smart Money" was being made, the studio knew that Cagney was going to be a huge hit, so they enlarged his part, but they didn't do it seamlessly, so Cagney seems to pop in and out of the film.
BTW - the guy who helps Cagney hold up the poker game is Donald Cook, the actor who played Cagney's brother, Mike Powers, in "Public Enemy". Cook's role goes uncredited.
As a historical film, we have Edward G Robinson, James Cagney, and Boris Karloff at the very starts of their careers ("Frankenstein" would be released about the same time as "Public Enemy"), all together in the same scene. Other than this, however, the film tends to be tedious. The "kinder, gentler" gangster film unless supporting a comedy usually falls flat, and given such contemporaneous films as "Scarface", "Little Caesar", and "Public Enemy", "Smart Money" has tended to be ignored.
So Smart It Hurts
Tom Without Pity | A Major Midwestern Metropolis | 05/08/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a review for the WB DVD release of the 1931 film SMART MONEY,
a WB film starring the just established Edward G. Robinson (LITTLE CEASAR)
along with what they hoped would be their newest star, James Cagney,
who was at the same time filming THE PUBLIC ENEMY.
The story concerns a immigrant barber who seems like he rarely loses when
gambling. This amateur gambler gets the idea to take on investors,
go to the big city and challange the legendary gamblers who rule the urban
roost. So after raising ten thousand, the barber goes to the city in search
for some big action.
After one night the barber is trimmed quite handily by small time sharpers
and eventually has to admit defeat. Until, after getting a barber's job in the
big city, he hits upon a plan to take the sharpers using his old know how and
a new found sense of confidence.
A vastly entertaining film, Robinson is in his early glory and Cagney
is just finding his familiar self in this almost unknown film.
Separately, and in their scenes together, they show what they
can do and won't disappoint anybody except those who want more.
SMART MONEY is loaded with raffish characters, including a snakey
Boris Karloff character, riotous un-PC slang, ha-cha blondes and a fast
paced script that keeps the players hopping.
In one remarkable scene, there's a shot with three of the hottest
stars of 1931 standing together, Karloff, Robinson and Cagney.
The WB DVD package contains the usual fun featurettes just to round
out your night at the WB movies. I think that the most remarkable
thing about SMART MONEY is that it hasn't been available for years.