Thursday, August 2, 2012

Penthouse (1933)



“Oh, I've been stupid, very stupid.”
“Of course. You're a man.”

            Penthouse is an MGM pre-code. Given that it is an MGM pre-code it is nothing earth shattering or extremely sexy, although it has some of the raciest lines I have heard from the genre.  Penthouse is a film that has gone way under the radar unless you are a fan of Myrna Loy or Warner Baxter which is a shame because all the characters and performances are great and the story is not bad at all.
            Jackson Durant (Baxter) is a lawyer who has just defended and beat a murder charge for the racketeer Tony Gazotti (Nat Pendleton). When Tony goes to pay him Jackson says he does not want money he did it for a thrill. Tony tells him whatever he needs in the future to just come to him. When Jackson goes back to his law firm he works for he tells the two other partners that he wants to defend people like Gazotti or people who would never stand a chance. The other lawyers are upset with Jackson for defending a well known criminal and do not want that kind of business coming through their office his father had built up.
Warner Baxter and Nat Pendleton
            Jackson not only loses his place in the law firm but his girlfriend Sue as well. She is mad at him for not having spoken to her in days while he was in court as well as for defending Tony. Jackson asks her to marry him but she tells him she has already moved on to another man a nice guy named Tom Siddall. Before Sue and Tom get married he needs to break things off with a woman he keeps on the side named Mimi (Mae Clarke). He tells Mimi he will give her an allowance to live off of but they cannot go on seeing each other since he is getting married. Mimi gets upset and calls her ex-boyfriend a racketeer named Jim Crelliman. Mimi wants something done about Tom for just casting her aside. At a party at Crelliman’s, Tom comes in to speak to Mimi, the two go outside and shots are heard. Mimi is dead on the ground and Tom is holding a gun.
C Henry Gordon and Mae Clarke
            Sue goes to Jackson the next morning to tell him what has happened. She and Jackson believe Tom has been framed there is no way he would ever do such a thing. Sue tells Jackson that if he loves her he will help her. She is shocked to hear that Jackson no longer loves her (*stupid bitch of course he does not love you anymore you dumped him!*). Jackson does still love her and does help her out. He goes to the jail to see Tom being interrogated. The police believe he went to a pawn shop to buy a gun and the man who runs the pawn shop comes in and says that Tom did come into his shop the day before. Tom was never in pawn shop and has never seen the man before in his life. Jackson speaks to him in his jail cell. Tom says that he does not remember much all he remembers is that he was out on the balcony speaking to Mimi when he heard gun shots go off, he saw Mimi on the ground, and felt the gun thrown at his feet and he picked it up.
            Jackson reaches out to Tony for help. Tony invites Jackson out for dinner at a club along with two ladies. One of the ladies, Gertie Waxted (Loy), is for Jackson to enjoy for the night. There is an immediate attraction between the two. When they decide to leave the club Jackson asks “Should I take you home?” and Gertie replies “Your home or mine?” They wind up going to Jacksons. As they begin to talk Jackson sees that Tony set him up with Gertie for a reason. Gertie was friends and roommates with Mimi and she believes that Tom killed her. Jackson takes her hand and notices a nice ring, she says that it was the only thing she could keep Mimi from selling to the pawn broker who said Tom had come into his shop. Jackson makes Gertie stay with him for the night, she gets the bed and he takes the couch.
Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy
            The next morning Gertie and Jackson sit outside for breakfast and just talk. She reveals a little more about Mimi and where they lived. As they talk Sue comes by to tell Jackson that someone has called her to tell Jackson to get off the case or he will be killed. From this message he knows that he is getting close to finding out what really happened. He has Gertie stay at his place he does not want anything happening to her. He asks where she lives and tells him her apartment overlooks the balcony where Mimi was shot and it is owned by Crelliman. When Jackson gets to the apartment Crelliman has his men surround the place. He is saved by the elevator operator who hates Crelliman.
            Jackson next goes to the pawn shop. The owner gets anxious telling Jackson to leave or Crelliman will have him killed if they are seen together. Somehow Jackson gets word that Crelliman has a gunman named Murdoch. He finds the gunman at a speakeasy but hides when he sees Gertie leaving with Murdoch. Jackson is very upset thinking Gertie has two timed him.
            He sees Tony again and tells him what Gertie did. Tony knows she was not two timing but does not say anything. Back at his place Gertie comes by telling Jackson she was with Murdoch so he (Jackson) would not be killed when he went looking around the man’s apartment. Jackson puts together a plan that allows him and the police to get to Murdoch before he is bumped off for talking but it involves Gertie putting herself on the line. She does not hesitate since her friend was the one who was killed.
            When Gertie goes to see Crelliman the racketeer in so many ways tells her he is going to kill her. She has to get him outside so the cops and Jackson can see him. Murdoch confesses to murdering Mimi so he will not be killed by Crelliman. They all see Gertie go back into the apartment with Crelliman, Jackson runs to get to her but he hears gunshots go off. Gertie is alright but Tony who came to save the day has been shot and dies.
            Tom is set free thanks to Jackson. Gertie is packing her things when Jackson comes into the room telling her he wants to marry her.
            Everyone was perfect in their roles. Myrna Loy plays a prostitute. Yes, sweet Nora Charles, Milly Stephenson, Muriel Blandings plays a prostitute but boy is she classy. Loy was just believable in any role she played because she always gave one hundred percent to her performances. Her wit was perfect to break up the bit of suspense in the story. One of the things I love about Loy is her facial expressions. They were always so real and genuine. I loved her reaction after Jackson passionately kisses her, she shakes her head and looks at him with warm surprised eyes. Warner Baxter although he did not give a very stand out performance did very well. He fit the role of a lawyer who got mixed with some gangster. His chemistry with Myrna Loy is fantastic. All their scenes and exchanges were full of innuendo and pure chemistry. There scenes felt like you were not watching actors on a screen saying lines but real people. Nat Pendleton as a gangster was interesting to see because I am so used to him as the cop from The Thin Man. He did a great job he looked like a gangster that was soft on the inside. Pendleton had that tough demeanor when he spoke and yelled but you can see it in his face that he was a nice guy. Mae Clark was not in the film for very long but I could not get over how beautiful her face was. She had such a modern- and by modern I mean today 2012 modern- look to her.
            W.S. Van Dyke directed this film. Apparently he really felt that Myrna Loy had some great talent because he was going around the MGM commissary saying that she was going to be a big star. I like his style of direction he really gets right down to the characters making the audience intimate them and their emotions and thoughts. He even does that in The Thin Man and several of his other films. With Van Dykes films I find myself liking the characters more because I feel I am getting more out of them. He may have been known as “One Take” Woody Van Dyke and had a reputation for being fast but he sure knew what he was doing.
            Penthouse is a good pre-code with great performances. As I said at the beginning it is not too risqué or earth shattering because it was made by MGM. The writers knew what sold so they snuck as much sexual innuendo and somewhat risqué lines and moments into the script. Penthouse is a good entertaining pre-code with the essential good story and good cast. If you ever see Penthouse it is like finding a gem among classic films. 
Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy