Monday, January 26, 2009

Picture Snatcher

I would imagine that most 1933 audiences found themselves mightily entertained by “Picture Snatcher.” It holds up very well today, as most 1930s James Cagney pictures do.

A lot of the credit goes to Cagney of course, that most dynamic of actors. But much of it has to with the Warner Bros. house style. It doesn’t let up for a minute and one scene leads logically to the next. Reliable director Lloyd Bacon sure knew how to keep things hopping.

Back in the 1930s when big cities like New York and Chicago had five, six or more daily papers the competition was fierce, and “Picture Snatcher” captures those days well. A flurry of bodies moving to and fro, the noise of the typesetters, editors barking into phones and drinking from bottles in the bottom desk drawer. If this wasn’t how newspapers were back then, it’s how they should have been.

In “Picture Snatcher”, Cagney plays Danny Kean, recently released from prison. He’s met by his old gang, but is determined this time to go straight. He goes to the Graphic News, the daily rag with the worst reputation in the city, to get a job. City Editor McLean (Ralph Bellamy) would like to give him a job, but can’t. Cagney decides to make them give him a job by getting a picture of a fireman who is holding off the cops, and the press, at bay in a burned out apartment building after the fireman found his wife and her lover in bed together. He torched the place and won’t come out.

Cagney succeeds in getting the interview in a very funny scene by pretending to be an insurance adjustor and getting an estimate on the damage. He gets the story and the picture, which nabs him a job on the Graphic News as a photographer, aka picture snatcher.

There’s really no plot, but a series of sequences where Cagney gets photos that the other news photographers can’t. One sequence, based on fact, has him sneaking a camera into an execution chamber and getting a photo just as the juice is turned on.

This being a 1930s Cagney picture, there has to be a doll to trade insults and kisses with and this time its not Joan Blondell, but Patricia Ellis, playing a college cutie who wants a job in journalism. She’s also the daughter of a cop who put Danny away years ago. The cop is played by Robert Emmett O’Connor, who played the befuddled cop in the Marx Bros. classic “A Night at the Opera” (1935) and he’s still befuddled here, thought less so. He likes Danny Kean and wants to see him go straight, but not with his daughter.

Alice White plays Bellamy’s girl who is not above batting her eyes at Danny. There’s a couple scenes where he slaps her around in the best Cagney style. Has any actor ever gotten away with smacking women around without losing sympathy as Cagney did? I don’t think so.

The film concludes with a mass gunfight when the police are out to get Jerry the Mug, an old comrade of Danny’s. (I like that name, Jerry the Mug. So gloriously Warner Brothers). Of course, he knows where Danny’s is holed up, and if Danny can sneak in, he can maybe get some photos of Jerry the Mug’s final minutes. The cops fire enough bullets into Jerry the Mug’s apartment for a small war. I’m not sure “The Longest Day” (1962) fired as many bullets as the cops do here.

I wonder if contemporary audiences would find the Danny Kean character unlikeable? He’ll do anything, or trick anyone, to get that front page photo. However, it’s likely Depression-era audiences, not knowing when the next bomb was going to drop, was cheering him on the whole way.

Rating for “Picture Snatcher”: Three stars.


Anonymous said...

I spent many a night(and matinee) in Dolton theater, in the early-mid 70's. I fondly remember the old watered down automatic pop machines that spouted 80% water first, then a dallop of syryp...the
little washroom to the left at the entrance, with 1920's fixtures...the little concession stand with the ever-running old popcorn machine..the sticky floors...the stage in front of the screen, where they actually performed vaudeville in the 1920's....the terra-cotta tile facade, and the little ticket-window in front, with a usually crabby old lady ticket taker.....the time that
Dolton Theater jumped the shark and went discount(dollar shows)....
and on and on......thought you'd get a kick out of thos, Kev!

Kevin Deany said...

Thanks so much for writing.

Yes, I remember all those things well. I loved the vast variety of movies I used to see as double features there, westerns, horror movies, science fiction (a double feature of "Soylent Green" and "Westworld" was a perpetual sell out) in additon to the kid matinees on the weekends - Godzilla movies, a Hercules double feature, Tarzan movies, Disney movies, Jerry Lewis, etc. Saw "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World" at a kid matinee.

Reissues too, like "Gone with the Wind" and "Ten Commandments"

Saw lots of AIP movies, be they horror movies or car chase movies.
Such fun. You used to run into kids from school or neighbors. It was great.

To this day, the biggest laughs I can ever remember at the theater was a double feature of "The Pink Panther Strikes Again" and "Revenge of the Pink Panther" on a Saturday evening. Roar after roar of laughter erupting into huge crescendoes, so loud you couldn't hear anything coming from the screen. I've never heard laughter before like that a movie since.

Thanks for taking the time to give me your comments.

Anonymous said...

Just a few more remarks about DT.
That night you mentioned with the crowd uproariously laughing....I can explain....first, that wasn't a
singular night. That happened all the time during the night shows if the movie was a top-notch comedy.
That particular double of Sellers caught him at his peak(yes, I'm one of those who think the later panthers were even better than the "Shot in the Dark" 60's versions. I recall critics were falling all over themselves praising those two movies, and Ebert gave both 4 stars, and this when he was far stingier with his ratings.....also, the nostalgia of the characters redux after 15 years
played a part as well.) Let's just say that night you mentioned was a perfect storm...classic double feature, the old guard middle class
folk still lived there, local economy humming(Anyone could make a good living wage in even Dolton itself in those days, from Kaiser Aluminum, to Container corp, and such, and you could buy a pasquinelli tri-level for 35K), and
there were still a zillion kids ala
the long tail end of the baby boom.

Funny you mention Westworld....indeed, they replayed
that countless times over the years. Remember, this was way pre-VCR, and a crowd pleaser would be brought back often. Perhaps they even owned a print of it outright.
Suffice it to say, indeed, the image of Yul Brenner seeing things
ala Robotrics, long before Terminator ripped off that robot eyesight panning, was quite a constant pleasure on weekends at DT. And truly that movie was brilliant, with Romanworld and the rest....maybe they just had Vegas figured out 30 years ahead of time, as everything but the robotrics seems to theme out now.
Nothing like adult playgrounds.
The jerry lewis vehicle you mentioned might have been one of two I saw on Saturday matinees at DT...One was Bigmouth(with some godawful Chinese stereotyping, buckteeth and all), and the other was hook, line, and sinker, with the strange scene of Jerry's body pulled like silly putty between two boats.....
Funny you mention Soylent Green, as I prob was in the audience with you(same age, 46)....I went there
several times with the neighborhood buddies to see it. That was the second time I got the chance to see Heston overemoting(after POTA's), and as a kid hearing "Soylent green is people" leaves an impression. That was a popular catch phrase for us a Berger school for awhile. "Damn you, Damn you all to hell" was an earlier one. RIP CH!...........
actually they played ALL the POTA's ones periodically, particularly beneath...nothing like hearing those gorilla horns
from the original one in a theater to get the blood boiling.....and yes, we sat there for the whole 3 plus hours for 10 commandments one saturday....Yul brenner was evidentally a permanent fixture at the DT............before I forget, remember how bad the film stock was at the DT, and how it would often just break off? I loved those
moments when the theater went dark,
and the audience would turn around and hoot at the projectionist....the sound would often be unsyncronized/choppy, and the reel changes were often late,
which means either the projectionist was missing the dot on the film trigger or he was getting stoned/drunk/laid/all of the above in the booth....also, remember the awful advertisements
before the movies(Dancing Popcorn,
lets all go to the lobby, prob stolen from a drive-in in Tinley Park, or Garritano's Pizza, with that awful picture....Larry Lujack and animal stories had a well worn
feature intro near the end of the DT run in early 80's.....finally, remember Nick's Sports page across
the street, where you'd go for a cheeseburger after the show if you had a few extra bucks.Do you remember the candy store directly across the street from DT which was there since the 1920's with a an original soda fountain, called Candyland(saw it in old pointer newspapers too.)?...It was there till Garritano's pizza bought the building. I lost a ticket for "conquest of the POTA' there once around 1970, and had the poor owner walking around helping me find it.
Or maybe you remember the music store in that triangle building
directly across the street, where
half of the kids in dolton took piano lessons? Wish I could remember the name. Nicks sports page moved into that building....

Ah, sweet memories!

Kevin Deany said...

I'm sure the Jerry Lewis movie I saw on a Saturday afternoon was "The Big Mouth."

I have fond memories of seeing several of the Apes movies at the Dolton. Didn't see the first one until I saw it on TV. My dad was going to take me to see "Beneath". I remember seeing the trailer for it and how excited I was to see it. Unfortunately we were coming back from a family vacation and was involved in a car accident. No one was hurt, but the car was out of commission for the week "Beneath" played at the Dolton. Didn't see that one until TV either. OK, I guess that wasn't a good memory.

"Escape" I saw there as a single feature with some guys my age who were staying with their granparents for the summer who lived next door to us. They rarely went to the movies, so it was a treat for them. I remember how excited they were to be going to the show.

"Conquest" played on a double feature with "Ben", the "Willard" sequel (yep, saw that at the Dolton too) to a very apprecative Saturday afternoon crowd.

"Battle" played on a double feature with an incredibly violent western called "Culpepper Cattle Company." I haven't seen Culpepper since then, but I have vivid memories of a scene where a guy gets his hand pinned to a wall with a large knife with great bursts of blood spuruting out. That was back in the days when a PG rating was much more liberal than today.

I remember the candy store, but I don't think I ever went in there. I remember there was, if memory serves, a combination candy store and soda fountain down the street about a block on Lincoln Avenue. Is that the same one?

Nick's Pizza, yes. They had some dynamite pizza. We had some great pizza choices growing up. Artese Pizza in Dolton and Vesuvios in Riverdale are still some of the best thin crust pizza I've ever had. Always consistently good. It's hard to get a really good thin crust pizza in the western burbs today. Aurelio's is good but maddingly inconsistent at times. If I could find a place that had pizza half as good as Artese or Vesuvio's I would be very happy.

Always heard good things about Damianis in the old section of Dolton, but there were so many rail crossings in the immediate area, that we invariably got caught by a train. So we rarely ordered from there, but stuck with Artese and Vesuvios.

Thanks for sharing those memories. It wasn't perfect, but it was a very nice place to grow up. Everyone I know has very nice memories of growing up there.

Anonymous said...

Acutually I saw the first planet of the apes at the Parthenon in Hammond around 1968 when it first came out. That's where you had to go to see first runs in the area before River Oaks 1 opened up in 1969....some people that reminisce
on the web remember the glowing green clock in the theater on the left hand side, which is strange in that theaters try hiding time just like casinos...funny how movies are a little "alternative reality" to the outside world, which the management of the Parthenon evidentally didn't pick up on, though I was told it was because a large part of the crowd were plant workers looking to keep track of shift times.....I remember the ancient bathroom fixtures in the Parth.....really rich and thick porcelein everywhere, almost ivory tusk like quality.....I would imagine you must have seen movies in Hammond as well as a kid...the Paramount was the other one, though
I never went there but once(Deer Hunter, around 1979, after which they closed up the next week..).......

There are pictures of both Hammond theaters on the web if you look for them....both are torn down completely for parking lots....

Kevin Deany said...

Yep, remember the Parthenon well, though I only went there a couple of times.

I do remember one memorable double feature in 1975 - "The Four Musketeers" and "Doc Savage, Man of Bronze."

Anonymous said...

One last thing, the hell can you remember the double bills at the "Dolton" so many years ago?
MY god, you must have a photographic memory. I do remember two double bills myself...
Kansas City Bomber(Raquel Welch roller derby schlock)-Fuzz(Burt Reynolds and gang, about '72

Per, Fuzz....totally forgotten
classic period movie...anti-cop cop
film , like Mash was an anti-army army film)

The other combo was Sleeper/Bananas...sorta a Woody Allen Festival for kids, strange for a matinee to have risque material, like the lady running half naked in Bananas,bit on the breasts by a snakelooking for someone to suck out the venom, or the famous orgasmatron in Sleeper....

Only the DOLTON would play Woody ALlen's movies as Matinee fodder on a Saturday.....LOL!

Kevin Deany said...

I guess it comes down to being a movie nerd.

I don't remember all of the double feature combos, but I remember quite a few of them.

Funny, I can barely remember what I had for lunch just a few hours ago.

I never saw any of those double feature combos you mentioned, but I wish I had.

Anonymous said...

Here are some interesting pics for you(and paintings)...

If you ever wondered what the projectionist booth looked like in the Dolton Theater, someone painted it on the internet along with the outside facade at night..
I actually would love to frame and hang the entrance one if I could get a copy of the print...

Projection booth:

Exterior Dolton Theater(around 1993)....right before nightclub conversion

This is a cool view behind the movie screen at the Dolton theater, for anyone curious(prob just me and Kevin)

And here is something worth a laugh...Kiss AND Rush played a double bill at the Hammond Parthenon in 1974...don't believe
me? Here's the link!

Ebay is selling a nice print of the Parthenon in 1948 at night, with Walgreens and other great stores in the background....
so strange what cool things you find on the web.|66%3A2|65%3A12|39%3A1|240%3A1318|301%3A0|293%3A1|294%3A50#ebayphotohosting


Anonymous said...

BTW, Damiani's is STILL open....I had a pizza inside inside there with a buddy a couple years ago, and it hasn't changed one iota.....very dangerous immediate area though..
have no idea how he stays in biz, though he says just enough regulars come in to keep him in biz.....

Kevin Deany said...

Tahnks for sending those links to the paintings of the Dolton Theater. Man, did that nighttime shot bring back memories. Very cool.

Anonymous said...

Better link to that handbill....

And glad you enjoyed the nostalgia.....I think we will carry all those memories for a lifetime!

PS..I think you were right about the candyshop being a block down......It was right by the Breslers 33 flavors place, on the corner, next to Dolton House restaurant I believe....

Thanks for putting up with all my posts!

Kevin Deany said...

I've really enjoyed the posts. Thanks again for sharing.

Anonymous said...

BTW, that nighttime exterior shot is now my computer cool is that?

Looking at that shot blown up for computer wallpaper reminds me of so many sweet summer evenings standing in line waiting for tickets in the early-mid 70's...
remember than corner pole thing would have stills from the movie
much of the time...I'd look at that while waiting for friends to show up..the stills were always obligatory black and white, just like today's industry headshots.
I always thought someone lived above the theater, but it was prob just extra room and washroom facilities for the projectionist, per their union requirements..they actually made a good buck back then....finally, gotta love that shiny Terra Cotta tile on the entrance! art deco!

Also, that artist has a really interesting website, with a bunch of other paintings, much of downtown/south side.....he has a style like that famous nighthawks picture of that diner in the 40's, but with a Van Gogh-ish color scheme.....and so photo-realistic..not sure how he accomplished that...


Anonymous said...

Link to Damaiani's Pizza lovers post on Facebook with pic.....