Cinema Slueth – The Hoodlum Saint

For review of all movies and TV shows by Dame Angela Lansbury, go here.

For movies, TV shows and books surrounding actors and actresses who were part of Dame Angela Lansbury’s 80’s and 90’s American crime drama television series Murder, She Wrote, go here.

Stars: 2.5 / 5

Recommendation: Started as a comedy crime story, moved into a drama and in the end tagged along with religion, the story sort of floated around everywhere without settling anywhere.

If you have read my blog posts so far, then you all know that I am a huge fan of Dame Angela Lansbury’s 80s and 90s American crime drama television series Murder, She Wrote. She plays a widowed and retired English teacher Mrs. Jessica Fletcher, who finds a second career as mystery writer, and also solves cases that happen around her. Now, whenever I see a movie being aired on TV or any streaming device that has her movies playing I tend to watch them. And here is the next one in the series.

The Hoodlum Saint is a 1946 American drama film starring William Powell, Esther Williams, Angela Lansbury and James Gleason among others. Directed by Norman Taurog, Produced by Cliff Reed and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer. The story and screenplay was written by James Hill and Fran Wead. Frances Marion also provided her expertise in screenplay but was not credited for it on screen.

Major Terry O’Neill (Portrayed by William Powell) loses his job after returning back from fighting in World War I in 1919. With his friends “Fiishface” (portrayed by Rags Ragland), “Three Fingers” (portrayed by Frank McHugh) and “Snarp” (portrayed by James Gleason, he resorts to variety of schemes in swindling people until the great Wall Street Crash in 1929. What are the consequences because of his schemes and where it lands him is the remaining part of the story.

The main story was based on life of Dempster MacMurphy a Chicago newspaper executive who engaged in philanthropy under the name of St Dismas. However the film received mainly negative release along with a loss to MGM.

I love William Powell in the role of Nick Charles in the Thin Man Series of films and also as Philo Vance in the 1933 America pre-Code mystery film The Kennel Murder Case. Those movies came with his debonair personality with shades of comedy and laughter to it. In this film however, even though he still has the debonair persona, he is much more hardened and cynical; stepping into the wrong side of the law.

Dame Angela Lansbury who portrays the role of “Dusty” Millard, hated the fact that MGM gave her voice doubles for her singing parts. She herself is an excellent singer and resented that fact. In this film, her singing was dubbed by Doreen Tryden. Interestingly enough, several years later, Lansbury had stage hits on Broadway in two singing roles in the 1966 Mame and the 1979  Sweeney Todd.

The two songs she is shown singing in the movie are – If I Had You for which Music and Lyrics given by Ted Shapiro, Jimmy Campbell and Reginald Connelly; and How Am I to Know? For which Music was given by Jack King and Lyrics by Dorothy Parker. Again it is no surprise to see how versatile Lansbury’s acting is. She plays the part of a cynical hard-boiled night club / café singer who has seen a lot of the world in a very short time.

Esther Williams portrays the role of Kay Lorrison, love interest to Powell’s O’Neill. She is famous for her swimming career as much as actress career. Many of you fans of old classics would have remembered her along-side Mickey Rooney in Andy Hardy movie series.

This movie was the final theatrical movie for Rags Ragland who portrayed the role of Fishface. A few months after this film was released, he passed away due to liver and kidney failure caused because of years of alcohol abuse. He was three days short of his 41st birthday. His close friends Frank Sinatra and Phil Silvers stayed by his side till the end. Sinatra even sang at the service while Silvers delivered a eulogy for Ragland. I remember seeing him as Red Skelton’s cohort in the “Whistling” movie series (1942 American crime comedy film Whistling in Dixie; 1941 American comedy mystery Whistling in the Dark and the 1943 American crime comedy film Whistling in Brooklyn.

The opening credits are shown on slides with caricatures of the various characters and scenes from the film.

Although film had tanked at box office, it does bring one major aspect to light – how the war veterans suffered financially and mentally once they were back from war. Defending the country was not enough for the government to take care of them. Very sad. Perhaps that is why Powell’s O’Neill becomes cynical and falls from his ideals once he returns back from the war.

A very odd movie for Powell to make, and a waste of Lansbury’s talents, the movie tries to focus on the principles and ethics, announcing to the world how veterans are treated badly. But in the end it gets mixed with religion, and the story simply sizzles down.

James Gleason, Rags Ragland, Slim Summerville and Frank McHugh bring the much needed comic relief in otherwise a slow drama that started really good, but failed to grasp the viewer’s attention as it progressed to the end. 

Started as a comedy crime story, moved into a drama and in the end tagged along with religion, the story sort of floated around everywhere without settling anywhere.

Spoiler Alerts:

Movie Trivia:

This movie was the final theatrical movie for Slim Summerville who portrayed the role of Eel (the guy with one glass solid glasses in the pic with Rags); Leila McIntyre who portrayed the role of Mrs. Ryan (uncredited) and Aileen Haley who was one the bridesmaids (uncredited).

Director Taurog’s nephew Jerry Lascoe Jr. made his film debut in this film in an uncredited role as a newsboy. (the boy on the left of the picture beside James Gleason)

Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

The opening scene shows soldiers supposedly getting off a train in Baltimore, Maryland in 1919. However you can see large palm trees in the background. Also the cars shown on the street are much more modern for 1919.

The scene that shows O’Neill, Kay and Joe Lorrison are conversing in the car, the rear-screen projection shows 1940s era cars, long after the story is set in.

After Kay leaves O’Neill’s apartment, O’Neill walks back with a far away look of sadness and disbelief. You can see the studio crew in the reflection of the glass to his left.

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