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Me and My Gal (DVD Review)

16 Sep, 2013 By: Mike Clark

Manufactured on demand via online retailers
$19.98 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Marion Burns.

For a cop-in-love comedy filmed before the repeal of Prohibition, which is easy to forget during its rapidly paced unreeling, this cult Raoul Walsh jewel is immersed in suds. And probably harder stuff, too, if some of this yarn’s soused-up, eatery-set mirth (the one and only time things get borderline labored here) are to be believed. This is how regular folks with an earthy streak lived then and still do. Today, instead of the fancy radio a heavily programmed salesman tries selling to the Joan Bennett character’s plot-central family, the clan’s descendants would be downing 6-packs on some ESPN afternoon.

Released by plain old Fox three years before its history-making merger with 20th Century Pictures, Me and My Gal (which spell-check likes changing to My Gal and Me) casts Spencer Tracy as a lovably lunkish Irish New York cop, a couple years before the actor moved to MGM for 20 years to become one of those most responsible for making the Lion roar. Even more historically, Gal teamed Tracy with Bennett 18 long years before they played parents to Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride and (a year later) Father’s Little Dividend. Bride, of course, is almost universally beloved, though it is, like its sequel, one of the least visually interesting movies Vincente Minnelli ever directed. But Walsh’s camera here – actually, it was the “other” Arthur Miller handling cinematographic labors — never finds a humble apartment room that it can’t make look compelling, at least on a nooks-and-crannies level.

With Bennett cast as a waterfront hash-house barmaid, the wisecrack bandying between the leads is some of the best I’ve ever seen on screen, as she feigns disinterest in the recently promoted-to-detective flatfoot; in the early going here, she won’t even take the gum out of her mouth until Tracy calls her on it. Almost automatically in the good graces of her father, Tracy would still just as soon have their make-out sessions (and there’s a credible-to-the-period one on her family’s couch) not take place when dad is on the premises. Of course, the latter (J. Farrell MacDonald) is often looped, so how would he know?

Thrown into the mix is a thug’s prison escape and a more than tangentially implicated Bennett sis (Marion Burns) — a twisted relationship given the latter’s recent marriage to a guy who flutters few femme hearts and is on the road a lot (George Chandler as we’ve never seen him — i.e. young — and putting up with a lot of wisecracks about his horse-y face). Walsh and enough screenwriters to fill a saloon take an anything-goes approach to the narrative, and the result has a marvelous loosey-goosey feel that is the antithesis of MGM during the period — though, in fairness, Metro had its lively moments as well until the newly toothy Production Code started embalming it beginning in 1934.

I just love this movie, which I’ve seen three or four times — all in recent years — on the Fox Movie Channel and more recently on Turner Movie Classics. Hapless FCM wouldn’t know it from its un-letterboxed airings of Pat Boone in Mardi Gras, yet combined with the TMC showcase, it’s good that programmers have been savvy enough to let it get out there and be seen. I was also delighted to see that Gal became one of the least known entries to make the first edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, which came out when Gal hadn’t received the modern-day exposure it has. After White Heat, it’s a candidate for my favorite Walsh, along with Gentleman Jim, The Man I Love, High Sierra and a couple more.

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