8/10
Forget Raft And West, This Is An Alison Skipworth Movie
11 April 2011
Night After Night is a very amusing gangster spoof comedy from the early talkie era. Best remembered as Gorge Raft's first starring role and Mae West's introductory movie role -- as if she needed any introduction! Nevertheless, this unambitious little movie stands on its own, tightly directed by Archie Mayo, beautifully filmed by cinematographer Ernest Haller, and well acted by the entire cast. The dialog is snappy with lots of funny lines, and the musical score, which seems to be that naturally produced by the bands in the speakeasy setting, stays in the background but enhances the light-hearted, devil-may-care Prohibition ambiance. Released in late 1932, this picture looks and sounds very sophisticated technically, showing in what a short time the industry had overcome the problems of creaky early sound equipment.

Raft, the owner of a high-class speak, is admiring from afar, and in fact has rather foolishly fallen in love with, a classy-looking "Park Avenue dame" (Constance Cummings) who frequents his joint, sitting all by herself and looking dreamy. Because he knows he's a no-class mug, he hires a stuffy old school teacher (Alison Skipworth) to teach him how to get some -- class, that is. It's a hopeless case of course, but Raft manages to get a date with the swell broad anyway, mainly because the building his joint occupies was once her girlhood home. The brew is stirred by a rival gang trying to horn in on his operation, a pistol-packing, madly jealous ex-moll (Wynne Gibson), and Raft's cynical henchman (Roscoe Karns) grousing about the entire proceeding. Raft thinks he has it going swimmingly with the swell dame when he gets her to dinner at his joint, especially since he has his tutor Skipworth at the table to give him moral support and keep his shaky class from slipping. The party gets livelier when it is crashed by another of his old flames, that moll of molls Mae West. The inimitable Mae works her very bad influence to get the school teacher roaring drunk.

Those to whom this is the first Mae West movie, may wonder why there was so much fuss over her. Sure, her two best assets -- the ones the inflatable life preserver was named for -- look great in a see-though negligee, but she's still a chubby middle-aged woman. Well, stick around. She would have probably said something like, "It ain't what ya got, it's how you carry it." Mae's role here is a supporting one. She doesn't show up until the midway point and has only a couple of scenes, but as George Raft reportedly complained, "She stole everything but the cameras!" Raft and Cummings are okay in the leads, both charming in fact. But it is the supporting cast that shines in this little jewel. Mae West is Mae West, and Roscoe Karns is Roscoe Karns at his best. Yet Alison Skipworth as the stuffy but lovable old schoolmarm practically steals the show, as she did nearly every movie she was in. She even keeps up with Mae West in the scene-stealing game. Here's a hot tip for you little mugs and mollies who are new to the racket of watching beautiful, old black and white movies -- you can't go wrong if you make a point to never miss an Alison Skipworth picture!

Night After Night is slick, solid, Old Hollywood entertainment all the way.
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