The Widow from Chicago (1930) Poster

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Alice White and Edward G. Robinson
drednm5 July 2008
Alice White stars in this 1930 crime drama that also boasts an early starring role for Edward G. Robinson. He plays a nightclub owner and bootlegger; she plays the widow. She shows up in his club looking for work and claiming to be the widow of a gangster (Neil Hamilton) who was killed when he jumped off a train in an attempt to escape the cops. In reality she's the sister of the cop who was tracking Hamilton. Now she's out to track down her brother's killer.

Smart dialog and solid story here with White in a slightly different role. Although she masquerades as a floozie she's really a pretty smart cookie as she leads to police to her brother's killer. Although the setting is a nightclub, White does not do a musical number (perhaps cut from the final print?) as she usually does in her talkies.

Although White was not an actress in the way Bette Davis or Joan Crawford were, she's got a great screen presence and holds her own here in scenes with the great Robinson. Hamilton is also solid as the undead gangster who returns to cause problems for White.

Co-stars include Frank McHugh, Harold Goodwin (as the brother), Betty Francisco, Brooks Benedict, and Anne Cornwall and Dorothy Mathews as the dance hall babes.

Worth a look.
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"The Widow" towers over Little Caesar
arthursward10 July 2003
And I'll support that conclusion. However, I must preface my commentary by acceding to a predilection for Alice White's performances. I adore her no-apologies-for-pert, straight-ahead style that was the antithesis of 'real' actors who rolled their R's and eyes at every opportunity.

We are introduced to Polly (Alice White) and Jimmy (Harold Goodwin) as new tenants by the neighbors' gossiping. Are they married? The question remains unanswered until just before Jimmy, the precinct's newbie detective, leaves for work. The clever script puts a smile on your face just as Jimmy waves at his sister, Polly from the street, and becomes a drive-by shooting victim.

The scripts' powerful counterpoints and wit are enhanced by director Edward Cline's smart pacing and Sol Polito's brilliant photography. The avenging Polly, masquerades to mob boss Dominic (Edward G. Robinson) as the widow of a dead associate of the gang. But she becomes trapped in his office when the 'widow's husband returns from the dead. When Dominic goes out to meet him, we are left with a great insert of the edge of the office door. Slightly ajar, we watch it in anticipation while Dominic meets Polly's 'dead' husband. Will she make a break for it? Will Swifty confront her? Your mind races as the camera holds on that door. It's bravura filmmaking, and Cline keeps it coming. By the way, Polly embraces her 'husband' whispering "go along, I'm on the spot". The excitement's just beginning, Swifty is only too happy to go home with his 'wife'.

Neil Hamilton handles his role as Swifty Dorgan with effective menace, and Polly goes from being on the spot in Dominic's office to being in a spot behind her own (now locked) door. Frank McHugh's got a fine bit as one of Dominic's hentchmen 'Slug', and advises his fellow thug, Mullins, to give up the girl he can't get along with. Slug's smugness melts, however, when Mullins returns the girl's key only to discover the key is to Slug's girlfriend's apartment.

Earl Baldwin's script has plenty of sparks left, and Polito takes the shootout in the dark to a new level when a spotlight is introduced: not only being shot at, but everything its prowling eye touches gets killed. You'll wonder why Little Caesar is famous after seeing this terrific gangster film.
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Witty crime movie
brliqq19 May 2002
A clever crime movie in which a woman seeks to put a mob boss behind bars for killing her brother, who was a cop. Polly gets inside Dominic's circle by posing as Swifty's wife, but when the real Swifty shows up things get interesting, and very unpredictable. Polly's brother was killed for impersonating Swifty, so now she is impersonating Swifty's wife for revenge. An entertaining movie that has humorous points and look out for an unusual place to see a SWATSTICKER, years before Hilter's rise.
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Propriety's sake
bkoganbing9 December 2016
Edward G. Robinson certainly showed what the movie going public were destined to see in The Widow From Chicago. It was the film immediately proceeding his breakthrough and forever identifiable role as and in Little Caesar.

He's got a job to do and need's some out of town talent so he imports Neil Hamilton sight unseen. But the police get wind of it and have a cop gain entree to Robinson's gang by posing as Hamilton. Then Robinson gets wise and the cop is bumped off.

After that both Hamilton does show up and the sister of the slain officer shows up claiming to be Hamilton's wife. I have to say these two think fast on their feet and Hamilton decides to not expose Alice White the sister.

White was very effective in her role though I think for propriety's sake her sending Hamilton out of her room was a bit much even for 1930 audiences to follow. I mean they could have done a Walls of Jericho like arrangement.

It's sad what happened to Neil Hamilton who went from an A list player gradually down to some really horrid B flicks. That strong voice and clear diction should have made him a big star in talkies, bigger than the silent screen. But the man did have a thirst problem. He did bounce back as a character player later on and is now best known as the Caped Crusader's number one fan Commissioner Gordon on Batman.

Still this film is Robinson's show, but he had a much bigger show just awaiting him.
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Alice is "Palpitating Polly"!!!
kidboots2 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I often wondered whatever happened to Alice White, one minute she was the top cutie, the next she had barely any lines in "Murder at Midnight". Then I read where she was causing all sorts of difficulties at First National, being a demanding diva, so when Warner Bros. took control she was quietly shown the door. She did make a comeback playing typical pre-code babes but in her hey day she was everything the public wanted in a movie cutie. Not only did she have the rare privilege of being billed above Edward G. Robinson, she had the rarer distinction of being probably the only person who could make a joke about his lack of height, laugh and get away with it. It all happened in "The Widow From Chicago". Things may have happened for Robinson immediately after this but for now Alice was the star.

This is a snappy little movie, Edward G. Robinson is as intense and gives 100% as usual but Alice White and Neil Hamilton have great chemistry and keep the mood light. When Polly's policeman brother is killed trying to impersonate "Swifty" Dorgan, who was last seen jumping into the East River and is presumed dead, Polly becomes "the widow from Chicago" and tries to infiltrate Dominic's (Robinson) empire. The fun starts when "Swifty" (Hamilton) returns from the dead and finds his "wife", much to his surprise is "Palpitating Polly" a dance hall hostess working in Dominic's Crystal Palace Club. He plays along with it - Polly is palpitatingly cute enough to make every man's heart flutter, including Dominic's. Being a pre-coder the wise cracks fall thick and fast - "I'm going to give her a piece of my mind - don't do it, you can't spare it" and "I don't think I recognise her - you ought to you got a good look"!!! But it is surprisingly tame on risqué business - Alice isn't seen in her underwear once!!! There is a scene where "Swifty" tries to impose his husbandly duties (Hamilton is so cute) but Polly isn't having any of that - then "Swifty" spies his missing grip and realises Polly is more than just a pretty face!!!

Understandably Robinson is the dominant player, it was only a small stepping stone from Dominic to Rico, all the intensity and mannerisms are there. In this movie he plays a beer baron who is all set to send Polly over to a rival club, whose manager will not buy his "poison", and set up a murder when her dear, departed "Swifty" shows up. By the time "Swifty" is sent over to the club posing as a waiter, Polly, who has learned to care about him, follows him and proves she has the guts and smarts to become either an ace reporter or even a police commissioner!! The thrilling climax has Polly using her big brown eyes to convince Dominic he is the one for her and with the phone off the hook by the aid of a matchstick, the police can all listen in as Dominic confesses to several murders.

Robinson was far more relaxed and camera easy than he was in "The Hole in the Wall" and 1930 gave him a variety of roles, including a couple of gangsters, an Italian immigrant and an Oriental. After "The Widow From Chicago" he returned to Broadway for "Mr. Samuel" and after it folded he traveled to Hollywood for "Little Caesar" and didn't return to the stage for over 20 years.

Mistake Alert - There is a poster advertising "Palpitating Polly" at the club long before Polly even seeks employment there.
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One for the crime buffs!
JohnHowardReid26 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
For the crime buff, Warner Brothers is undoubtedly the most interesting of the major Hollywood studios. Right from the very start, the Brothers established a tradition of hard-hitting realism that left other studios for dead. Of course, it's problematic if the film-makers would have continued in this vein if their socially-conscious product hadn't also been extremely popular with audiences. No doubt titivating titles like Why Girls Leave Home helped. This 1921 account of the big city's corrupting influence was not only the studio's first feature film, but its first big success. The Warners followed with Parted Curtains, the first in a long succession of hard, grittily realistic movies about crime and criminals. Even their third offering, School Days, had nothing to do with the type of school the title brings to mind.

It's no accident therefore that down the track Warner Brothers became home to the screen's three greatest gangster icons: Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. All three made interesting "B" movies before their stars became firmly established. Robinson joined the super-star ranks with his Little Caesar (1930), Cagney leapt into fame in the title role of The Public Enemy (1931), whilst Bogart refined his definitive gangster in The Petrified Forest (1936). Made immediately before Little Caesar, The Widow from Chicago already finds Robinson on familiar ground. Third billed, he plays a ruthless liquor lord, determined to kill off his rivals for control of the city. One of his victims is an undercover police detective. The cop's sister decides to avenge her brother by getting the goods on Robinson herself. She takes a job in his speakeasy. The plot then develops along familiar lines, although a few unexpectedly suspenseful (if unlikely) twists keep interest high right through to a thrillingly-staged action climax.

In the acting department, Robinson easily walks away with the movie. His characterization of the gangster is already fully developed, all his familiar mannerisms of speech and gesture firmly in place. Unfortunately, the other principals, particularly pouting, mousey-voiced Alice White as the widow and relentlessly wooden Neil Hamilton as the good/bad hero, are a sorry lot. I picked comic Frank McHugh as the best of a poor bunch. His interpretation of this standard dumb stooge becomes not only disturbing but oddly sympathetic. At the climax when he neatly corners himself in a patrol wagon, you can't help feeling a bit sorry for him. Hes just a friendly, loyal but not overbright guy who's grown up and lived with the mob all his life. Society has never given him a chance.

Although obviously struggling with the demands of sound in many of the dialogue encounters, director Edward Cline really comes to life once the camera moves into the action spots. The climax rates as an absolute stunner, yet it's not way over the top as the similar finish to M-G-M's The Beast of the City where guns popped and cops dropped all over the place. Just one killer in the spotlight here, but what a spotlight! The equally convincing street scenes were doubtless all filmed on the studio's back lot, but they retain the gritty, mean feel of real streets filled with real slum-dwelling, Depression-era people.
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"Little Caesar"-lite.
MartinHafer2 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is a very forgettable gangster film that Edward G. Robinson made a year before becoming a mega-star with his breakout movie, "Little Caesar". While he isn't bad in "The Widow From Chicago", the film itself is really ridiculous and I am sure it didn't do much for his career.

When the film begins, Polly (Alice White) learns that her brother is a cop and is planning on infiltrating Dominic's gang. He's going to pretend he's Swifty--a gangster who the authorities believe is dead. However, his real identity is discovered and he's soon murdered...perhaps by Dominic (Robinson) himself.

The spunky Polly decides her next course is to infiltrate Dominic's mob and she gets a job as a dance hall girl. She quickly gains Dominic's trust by pretending to be Swifty's wife but a serious glitch occurs when the REAL Swifty (Neil Hamilton) arrives! Here is where it gets REALLY hard to Swifty decides to go along with it and pretends Polly really IS his wife!! Why?? I have no idea!! The rest is exciting...but ultimately completely ridiculous due to the inexplicable relationship between Swifty and Polly. Well worth seeing but totally ludicrous.
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Robinson Pre Caesar
Michael_Elliott29 December 2011
Widow from Chicago, The (1930)

** (out of 4)

Early gangster film from Warner has Alice White playing Polly Henderson, a woman who sees her brother get gunned down by a bunch of thugs. The woman pretends to be the widow of another gangster who is presumed dead and she crashes in on thug Dominic (Edward G. Robinson) to try and find out who killed her brother. THE WIDOW FROM CHICAGO is a fairly entertaining film that's going to mainly play to those who want to see Robinson in the role of a gangster a year before he became a star with LITTLE CAESAR. There's really nothing to compare in terms of the two performances as it's clear Robinson was still trying to find it acting chops. He's certainly good here but it's easy to see why this film didn't make him a star. It should go without saying but there's very little going on with the screenplay other than a few twists and turns that most viewers are going to pick up on long before they happen. The screenplay itself is pretty silly as there are all sorts of wacky things that happen including the entire bit with the real gangster (Neil Hamilton) who's supposed to be dead showing back up and throwing a wrench in the plans of White. The twist in what happens to Robinson is downright silly and so far-fetched that you almost have to laugh at it. As for White, she's certainly not in the same league as the legends from this era and while her performance is far less from what I'd consider good, there's no doubt that she has a presence on the screen. Her and Robinson do fine work together and certainly help the weak material. The supporting cast offers up Frank McHugh playing the comic bit but he doesn't get a chance to do too much. In the end this is a pretty forgettable film but the addition of Robinson makes it worth viewing for fans of his or the genre.
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Mother of Mercy! Is this the end of Dominic?!?
utgard1415 December 2014
Ruthless gangster Dominic (Edward G. Robinson) bumps off a young detective impersonating Swifty Dorgan. The detective's sister (Alice White) sets out to get revenge. She passes herself off as Swifty's wife in order to infiltrate the gang. But then the real Swifty (Neil Hamilton) shows up.

Pre-Little Caesar gangster movie for Robinson, his first at Warner Bros. Also very early role for Frank McHugh, who already seems to be perfecting his screen persona. Alice White is pretty bad. She says every line the same way, regardless of what emotion she's supposed to be displaying. It's an early talkie so there's the expected amount of creakiness. Watchable, particularly for Robinson fans, but nothing special. Believe it or not, this was originally a musical!
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Robinson rehearses Rico
st-shot11 January 2012
Before his breakout role in Little Caesar Edward G. Robinson gets some practice in as a thug nightclub owner in The Widow from Chicago. Featuring the limited Alice White in the lead Robinson has little trouble in garnering all the attention in this mediocre crime pic.

Polly Henderson's policeman brother is murdered while working undercover. She swears to get the man behind his murder and goes undercover herself as the wife of a supposedly dead mobster. Getting a job at Domenic's club she begins to make headway when the faux widow's husband turns up breathing.

Whites high pitched squeal of a voice and cutesy mannerisms are cloying within the first reel leaving it up to Murray Hamilton and Robinson to inject the proceedings with a feeling of dead seriousness which Edward G does with aplomb in a supporting sporting role. In it you see the first vestiges of the cock sure Rico, a touch less subdued but every bit imposing. But with White occupying most of the screen time The Widow from Chicago deserves no sympathy.
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Early WB gangster flick--interesting, but not particularly good
frankfob9 July 2003
Edward G. Robinson and Alice White star in this early Warner Bros. gangster flick. White is the sister of a murdered policeman, and she sets out to find her brother's killer by impersonating the widow of a dead gangster and cozying up to Robinson, a rackets boss. There are even more complications in this, frankly, badly directed film (Edward F. Cline fared much better as a comedy director at Universal later in his career), several of the supporting performances are either weak or hammy, the film tends to meander and has quite a few dead spots, but Robinson and the unjustly neglected (and very sexy) Alice White do quite well despite the convoluted plot. It's main interest is as a precursor to the classic WB '30s gangster films, and you can see the famous Warners style emerging. It's just a pity that the film itself is so mediocre. It's worth a look to see where Warners was going with the gangster genre, and you can see a lot of Joan Blondell in the vivacious Alice White, but other than that, it's nothing really special, and doesn't hold a candle to Robinson's later work in "Little Caesar" and "Smart Money," which came out a year later.
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It's OK
AAdaSC9 February 2011
Polly (Alice White) infiltrates a group of gangsters headed by Dominic (Edward G Robinson) in order to find out who killed her brother Jimmy (Harold Goodwin).

The plot develops at a pace which just about allows you to keep up with the story. It's a bit complicated at the beginning but things fall into place so keep watching. Alice White is super cute and likable but I'm not convinced about her ability to survive in the underground world. She'd be dead if she wasn't mixing with lightweights such as Neil Hamilton who plays "Swifty". It comes as a surprise when she ruthlessly shoots a policeman although there is a twist that runs alongside this. Another lightweight is Harold Goodwin - the film gets off to a good start when he gets shot. Overall, this film holds an interest but it is nothing special.
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The rise of Robinson and the fall of White.
davidjanuzbrown13 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The primary reason to watch this movie is to see Edward G. Robinson's first time playing a gangster ( Dominic) at Warner Brothers. Robinson had that role down pat ( this was his fourth time he played a mob boss). The biggest problem is the main star Alice White ( Polly Henderson). The problem is although Polly is beautiful to look at, she is far too lightweight to be in a gangster movie ( as is her future love interest 'Swifty' Dorgan Neil Hamilton (best known as Perry White on the 'Superman' a TV Series)). The story involves Polly pretending to be the 'Widow' of Hamilton in order to find out who murdered her policeman brother., who was pretending to be Hamilton ( who he believed died from a leap into the East River). Of course, the problem happens when ( spoilers ahead) he survived and found out about his "Widow." Of course, she succeeds and tricks Robinson into confessing to the murder on the phone while the cops listen. Of course, 'Swifty' saves her from Dominic, and as Dominic says "Invite me to the wedding, but make it fast, because I am afraid, I will not be around for awhile." Which inspires 'Swifty to pop the question. One other thing about the movie is songs ( probably sung by Alice White), that were cut from the movie ( as a gangster film fan ( and hater of musicals) that was a good thing). Basically this movie shows clearly the rise of Robinson and harder edge movies and the end of Alice White's fluff. 8 of 10 stars.
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