The Beast of the City

Gasser

The Beast of the City (1932)

     Movies have since nearly their inception been known to glorify crime usually more often than they do law enforcement. This seemed particularly true during Prohibition when many speakeasy-frequenting audience members likely sympathised with the plight of the bootlegger. The Beast of the City is one rare example where that is not the case. The film –the direct result of a request by President Herbert Hoover of MGM head of production Louis B. Mayer to make a film that reverses on the typical glorified gangster plot– promotes the efforts of police officers to fight racketeering.

 
     Walter Huston plays Jim “Fighting Fitz” Fitzpatrick, a police captain known to be tough on crime to the point that he clashes with the chief of police. This results in him being transferred to a desk job in a small town. Meanwhile, Wallace Ford playing brother Ed Fitzpatrick, a vice officer, offers to look into the innerworkings of mobster Sam Belmonte’s (Jean Hersholt) set up. In the process he starts an affair with Belmonte’s secretary, Daisy (Jean Harlow), who distracts him from his work and even gets him extra income helping Belmonte find safe routes to get liquor to its destination. When Fitz joins a car chase after some bank robbers/murders and gets a plethora of press for the excursion, the media push for his appointment of Chief of Police in that big city from whence he was excluded.
 
     As Chief, Fitz creates an army to arrest every drunkard and shut down every gin joint with the aim of eventually taking down Belmonte. Ed, meanwhile, is annoyed his brother will not give him a promotion based on nepotism and agrees to facilitate in the theft of a truck of money by Belmonte’s men. Because he is being watched by two off-duty cops, the crime does not go off easily and one of those officers ends up shot dead. Being the tough chief he is, Fitz charges his brother with murder alongside the two hoods involved in the debacle, but Belmonte’s attorney gets all three off. Despite this blow to the law-and-order side of the story, the cops are able to close the film in what could either be seen as a victory or a draw.
 
     Harlow’s part in this film is rather small. She plays a gangster’s moll, which is pretty typical for her, and she is given no particular attention in the plot outside her small influences over Ed. The story is more about Fighting Fitz and his various endeavors. An important note: Fitz’s son is played by a young Mickey Rooney, who although it few scenes, really steals them. He was going by Mickey McGuire at that time. He was named Joe Yule, Jr. at birth but his mother offered to legally change his name to Mickey McGuire when he was going for a role based on comic strips about a character of the same name so that the producers of the films could circumvent paying the writer of the comic strip royalties.  SPOILER The Beast of the City ends in a lot of bloodshed. The final scene involves a standoff between a dozen cops –including Fitz and Ed– and Belmonte and his men. What proceeds is ceaseless gunfire until everyone in the room is dead, including Daisy. Our protagonist goes down with the rest of them, which really makes it seem as though no one really won. True, the city is now free of the major mob guy who is behind all the crime, but it also lost its biggest advocate for safety, it’s chief of police. To be cynical, and realistic, one could say that another mobster is going to move into the territory now and the next chief of police is unlikely to be as hard-hitting as Fitz. To truly promote the plight of police, it would have been nice to have one guy standing at the end.
 
Source: Robert Osborn, TCM.com
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