Queen of the Mob
from Persons in Hiding by J. Edgar Hoover
During the first couple of scenes I was so busy discovering famous faces all together at the same time, that I had a problem following all that was being said. Blanche Yurka. J. Carrol Naish. Paul Kelly. And that black-haired man IS blond Richard Denning, supposedly needing to look like the rest of this larcenous, murdering family.
Queen of the Mob is briskly paced, artfully edited (Arthur Schmidt) and well-acted. We watch what appears a close-knit family, except for one white sheep who insists on a straight life. But the greed of all the others is such that Mother — SPOILER ALERT — can order a son to kill his brother, and he does it, apparently without a qualm.
I liked the film and was brought up short reading Eric Spilker’s citation, in the CINEVENT program notes, of the New York Times review which asked, essentially, what the film is about besides its own violence. Mother is the most ruthless of all, but the script gives her no motivation. The writing does give Paul Kelly an opportunity to get beyond his usual snarling presence and exhibit more than surface feeling.
It is a pleasure to see a rare appearance by Jean Cagney, sister of James the Great. Robert Ryan has not a line but a single word: “Right!”
This film is one of four based on J. Edgar Hoover’s book Persons in Hiding. That was the title of the film based on the same book shown at last year’s CINEVENT. (CINEVENT hopes to show the other two at the next couple of festivals.) In writing about Persons in Hiding last year, I said that the rapid pacing of robbery after robbery rarely offered opportunity to see the perpetrators’ life off the road. This film shows something more of that, but like the other one it makes clear that folk who live like this never enjoy the money they’ve killed for. In fact, most of the time they don’t dare spend it.
JACK CARSON LISTENING
Jack Carson plays a G-Man in Queen of the Mob and is in several scenes. He has few lines, but what he does here is listen, creatively. How he does that demonstrates what a good actor he was. He never does this in a scene-stealing way. He is simply always a vital participant in what is happening. Watch him in the scene where Billy Gilbert insists on serving all the G-Men a piece of cake. Carson’s reaction is unique, and perfect. It was but a few years down the road when he would become only the straight sidekick to the romantic lead. He would have a good role in the Cukor A Star is Born, but by then the subtlety was gone.
Another Great Listener: Rita Hayworth was outstanding in doing the kind of listening I have been describing. Watch her, even in her earliest 30s films. She hears and reacts to everything happening around her. Like Carson in Queen of the Mob, she does this by way of filling out her characterization and without ever distracting attention.
NEXT POST Friday June 28 with a wrap-up of CINEVENT 45 and discussion of a new film from France.
See you at the movies,