Released 3/24/28 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; Director: Tod Browning; Assistant Director: Harry Sharrock; Screenplay: Waldemar Young, from a story by Tod Browning; Cinematography: Henry Sharp; Film Editor: Harry Reynolds; Settings: Cedric Gibbons; Wardrobe: Lucia Coulter; Titles: Joe Farnham; Wardrobe: Lucia Coulter; 8 reels (7277')
CAST: Lon Chaney (Chuck Collins), Marceline Day (Sunshine), James Murray (Curly), Betty Compson (Helen), Matthew L. Betz (Red), John George (The Arab), Virginia Pearson (Tennessee), Walter Percival (Grogan), Lew Short (O'Hara), Eddie Sturgis (Blinkie), Betty Egan, Delores Brinkman, Della Peterson (Dancers)
SYNOPSIS: At a local night club, Tennessee, a popular singer, is doing her number while Red Watson's gang is planning to hold the place up. Chuck Collins, another local hood, is spotted in the club, and Red wonders if he is wise to their plan. Two of the dancers, wearing masks, pull out guns and demand everyone's jewels. Later, Red and his gang are waiting for their partners to return with the jewels, when they discover their supposed accomplices tied up in a closet. In his Harlem hideout, the Black Bottom Cabaret, Chuck is looking over the jewels from the robbery along with his pals Curly, Blinkie, and Chuck's girl, Helen. Helen runs a sewing and mending shop as a front for the gang's operations. Sunshine, a sweet girl who works in the shop, has no idea what is going on, and when Grogan and O'Hara, two detectives, pop in to see Chuck, she nearly uncovers the pearls they are hiding there. Later, at the Black Bottom, Sunshine tries to get Curly interested in her, but he is more interested in the gaudy cabaret girls. The detectives learn that Chuck has the stolen jewels, but decide to wait before making an arrest. They follow Red to the Black Bottom, where Red demands that Chuck turn over the loot. The police break in and arrest everyone, including Sunshine, but Chuck and Curly escape. Chuck hides out with Helen, and when Sunshine is released 10 days later, she comes home to find that her father has died. While Helen goes off looking for the girl, Sunshine comes to her room and finds Chuck. As he holds her in his arms comforting her, Helen returns, and although Sunshine tells her there is nothing between them, Helen is suspicious. While Helen and Chuck are asleep, Curly comes by and forces himself on Sunshine, but Chuck enters and knocks him out. Curly comes to with Sunshine wiping the blood from his face. Chuck begins to have second thoughts about the robbery. Helen taunts him about finding religion and tells Sunshine that they were all in on the robbery. Chuck has fallen for Sunshine, who convinces him to return the jewels. Curly and Chuck are arguing over returning the jewels when Red appears and takes the loot. Chuck and Curly follow Red to his hideout, and while they argue over the jewels, two officers come, take the jewels, and arrest Chuck and Curly. When Red looks through the keyhole, he sees the "officers," in reality two of Chuck's pals, take off their uniforms and leave with Chuck. Chuck returns the jewels and tells the police he is going straight. Curly proposes to Sunshine, and Chuck is hurt when he hears the news, but wishes the couple well. Returning home, he tells Helen he is going to marry her. As she runs off to get dressed, he yells, "Wait a minute! I ain't gonna buy you nothin'...I'm just gonna marry you!"
"Not much better than a light-weight underworld picture for a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer program release, but with the possible novelty of showing Lon Chaney playing a human being in modern dress...Chaney as Chuck Collins, one of the crook leaders, is a consummate actor, in this as well as in character otherwise." ---Variety
"Mr. Chaney has considered carefully what Collins ought to wear. This crook has a penchant for stripes, both in his suits and his neckties. Mr. Chaney's performance is excellent, but, through no fault of his, the latter episodes are hardly convincing." ---The New York Times
"It is even more pleasant, perhaps, to see the gifted Mr. Chaney as the gifted Mr. Chaney and not as a dinosaur, a pygmy or the survivor of several major operations...I seize this opportunity to repeat my former plea [from a review of TELL IT TO THE MARINES] to Mr. Chaney to leave the trick makeup, henceforth, to those lesser actors who need something of the sort to get them by. Mr. Chaney quite emphatically does not." ---Exhibitors Herald
NOTES: No prints of THE BIG CITY are known to survive, and by all indications, it may be one of the most interesting of the lost Chaney films. Browning again returned to a genre he felt comfortable with, combining elements of his earlier films, OUTSIDE THE LAW and THE UNHOLY THREE, but adding a sharp dose of comedy as well. The titles by Joe Farnham crackle with snide remarks and innuendo. Critics marveled at Chaney's tough portrayal of the not-so-tough gangster, and his success in this probably led to his casting as a detective in WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, filmed later that year.
An additional sequence was shot as backup at the request of Irving Thalberg in case of police censorship. The 90-second scene, inserted near the end of the picture, makes it appear as if Chuck had been in cahoots with the police to retrieve the jewels from Red. The additional shots are listed in the cutting continuity as an optional insert for reel 8, but were apparently not used in the final release prints.
The film was shot in 30 days at a cost of $175,000, one of the smaller budgets for a Chaney film. The film did poor business in foreign markets, but did above average in the U.S., earning total profits of $387,000.
© 2000,2008 Jon C. Mirsalis
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