Sunday, April 17, 2011

Other Men's Women (1931)

Other Men's Women is the kind of cinematic oddity that could probably only have been produced in Hollywood’s wild and crazy pre-code era.

This 1931 movie starts out as a rather laboured comedy, then switches to melodrama. It makes no concessions to realism. That would usually endear a film to me but I found this to be a very hard movie to like.

Two childhood buddies work as railroad enginemen. Bill (Grant Withers) is a likeable drunk while Jack (Regis Toomey) is a quiet steady family man. Jack decides that the best way to settle Bill down is to invite him to live in his house. Maybe sharing a house with Jack and his wife
Lily (Mary Astor) will encourage Bill to change his ways and start becoming a responsible citizen.

Jack’s plan is one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. Of course what actually happens is that Bill and Lily fall in love. And then Bill and Jack quarrel, with violent and tragic results, results that lead to a spectacularly melodramatic conclusion.

The support cast is strong, headed by Joan Blondell and James

The ingredients are there for a good film and it certainly has some great momen
ts. These moments are entirely visual, demonstrating a formidable and delightful visual wit. James Cagney in evening dress prancing along the tops of a series of railway wagons, James Cagney arriving at a dancehall in his railway engineer’s uniform and stripping it off to reveal a tuxedo underneath, Bill jumping off his slow-moving train at it arrives at a station giving him enough time to have breakfast and flirt with the waitress before jumping back on the train as it finally leaves the station - these are classic pieces of cinematic magic.

And yet despite this the movie is something of a chore to sit through. Part of the problem is that the supporting cast (Cagney and Blondell) is a whole lot more impressive than than any of the three leads (Withers, Toomey and Astor). Withers and Toomey are simply awful, wooden and embarrassing, and Astor (usually a very competent actress) is unconvincing and dull. If only director William A. Wellman had had enough sense to promote Cagney and Blondell into the leading roles he might have had a terrific little picture on his hands.

As it stands the weak leads expose the contrived nature of the script and it all falls rather flat.

William A. Wellman had a somewhat uneven career and his reputation today is arguably a tad overrated.

An odd little movie that has some curiosity value but its main interest is seeing James Cagney on the brink of stardom and already displaying signs of the extraordinary charisma that was the hallmark of his glorious career.


  1. It is weird to watch because at times it looks like an audition reel for Cagney but his role is really rather small -- too small to justify the awesome entrance Wellman gives him or his flamboyant bit of hoofing. As for the rest of it I dug the authentic feel of the railroad scenes and the spectacle of the climactic storm, but the male leads are pretty weak compared to Cagney.

  2. Samuel, it's interesting that in Wellman's next picture he again cast Cagney in a supporting role. But this time the penny finally dropped and he hurriedly revised the casting to put Cagney in the lead. The movie of course was The Public Enemy and the rest, as they say, is history.