The Depression cosmos of scroungers and swells is laid out for the unalloyed surrealism of appearance and meaning, so naturally Magritte's apples are prominent. "You believe in fairy-tales, don't you?" "Whaaat?" Neon and asphalt and bustling mendicants outside, meanwhile in the nightclub there's a fly buzzing between rival sugarcubes, just a little wager for superstitious racketeers. The aged street vendor (May Robson) navigates Skid Row but to her estranged daughter (Jean Parker) she's a grand dowager residing in the opulent New York hotel, a private fiction forever on the verge of crumbling. The metamorphosis is engineered by the bootlegger (Warren William) as a grudging good deed that balloons into a vast institutional production, it takes a ringleader's whip more than a fairy godmother's wand to get mugs and molls into tuxedos and furs. "Meet the new society lady," by her side is the former magistrate (Guy Kibbee) armed with snooker cue and Thesaurus: "If I had choice of weapons with you, sir, I'd choose grammar." Damon Runyon expanded by Robert Riskin, Frank Capra shapes it all into his own transmutation of Brecht and Weill. (Pabst's Die Dreigroschenoper is unmistakably close.) The underworld's closet morality and the aristocracy's sustained performativity, Ned Sparks' ashtray gravel and Walter Connolly's Castilian lilt, the arduous rehearsal that yields the vacant drawing room suddenly crowded like a Broadway premiere. Boccherini underscores the revelation, precisely the music for an elderly character actress at long last savoring the chance to play debutante. "Enough tears around here to float a battleship!" The Bukowski awakening comes along in due time, though not before Capra's own beautifully antediluvian recollection in A Pocketful of Miracles. Cinematography by Joseph Walker. With Glenda Farrell, Nat Pendleton, Barry Norton, Halliwell Hobbes, and Hobart Bosworth. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce