Hard to Handle (1933) Poster

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Still funny
alanthebrown8 October 2007
This film holds up really well and can still raise a laugh.The mother is hilarious as she sways to and from Cagney as a prospective husband for her daughter according to his financial position at the time. The film breezes along with some predictability but the sparkling script and entertaining cast more than compensate. A great pity that the film is unavailable but I recorded it on Channel 4 in the UK some years ago and was pleased that I have now finally got round to watching it! Set during the Depression era, the opening marathon dance scenes sequences capture the desperation of the poverty-stricken at that time who would do almost anything to get ahead.The power of advertising and the gullibility of the public are admirably portrayed with a tongue-in-cheek humour that constantly appearing throughout the film. I laughed out loud several times which has not always been the case when I have been watching so-called comedies of recent times!
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James Cagney and Ruth Donnelly - Just a Terrific Team!!!
kidboots3 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Ruth Donnelly had such a barbed way with a stinging comment, she found her niche playing secretaries and battle axe mothers whose dialogue was often made up of wise cracks and witty repartee. To "Blessed Event" and the overbearing aunt who forces her husband (Guy Kibbee) to find jobs for all her free loading and talentless relatives in "Footlight Parade", I would add the $$ signs mother in "Hard to Handle" as one of her most incisive performances. She was only a few years older than James Cagney but in this movie they make a terrific team - he as "Lefty" Merril a fast talking con man who has a million ideas - none of them on the level. He is in love with Ruth (sweet Mary Brian) whose mother (Donnelly) is determined that she marry rich, rich, rich!!! The busy banter between Cagney and Donnelly - he "I just have to find a place to stay", she "what's wrong with the park", he "until I find a proper location" she "where? Sing Sing??" - keeps the movie sparkling!!

His schemes always fail - a dodgy dance marathon where his partner runs off with all the money, a treasure hunt on the Sea Breeze pier where the winner is to find $5,000, only there is no prize but the thousands of seekers let loose wreck the pier (a hilarious scene)!! One of his schemes does take - a cold cream that doesn't absorb into the skin becomes Velvet Reducing Cream and Lefty becomes an instant millionaire!! Now Ruth is hesitant - she liked the old "go get 'im" Lefty and feels his head may be turned by his wealthy lifestyle and now wants to wait a few months before accepting his marriage proposal.

That is all the time needed for vampy college student beauty Marlene Reeves (gorgeous Claire Dodd who else) to try to get her red nailed fingers into him. If only Claire Dodd could have got her man just once - her smarts and cunning matched his and even though Ruth said to Lefty of New York "this is my town, not yours" Dodd's slinking made Brian look like a country bumpkin. I also couldn't understand those matching mother daughter outfits either - quite odd!!! But Miss Dodd was always destined to be the scintillating other woman and what an "other woman" she was.

Cagney didn't like being restricted to "dese, dem and dose" type roles - although even today they are elevated by his emotional honesty and sheer dynamism. He walked out of "Blessed Event" (I'm glad - I don't think Lee Tracy could be bettered) claiming he was doing too many movies for too little pay. "Hard to Handle" was his return movie and even though he played yet another scrapper - similar to his Bert in "Blonde Crazy" - at least he was getting more pay!!!

Highly Recommended!!
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Precode features the boundless energy of James Cagney
AlsExGal3 July 2011
This is a great little film that demonstrates everything that was fun about the Warner Brothers precodes. There are dance marathons, scams aplenty with Cagney's character at the center of them all - sometimes knowingly sometimes not, and that precode actress you'd just love to strangle - Claire Dodd.

Ruth (Mary Brian) is in love with Cagney's character, but Ruth's gold-digging mother Lil (Ruth Donelly) wants to make sure Ruth marries money. When Cagney is doing well, Lil's all for him as a future son-in-law. When he's not, she's after a photographer - " a 25000 dollar a year man" - as she describes him. The girls dress alike and Lil is always referring to herself and her daughter as "we", as in "we love you" or "we can't marry a pauper like that". Cagney plays an advertising promoter whose ideas sometimes work and sometimes don't, but always to comic effect. This film is not on DVD or VHS, so chances are you've never heard of it. Another interesting tidbit - Ruth Donelly and Mary Brian are actually only about ten years apart in age, yet play mother and daughter pretty effectively. Highly recommended for the silliness of it all.
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"Never let a snake bite ya' twice."
classicsoncall6 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Thanks to "Hard To Handle", I now know that the grapefruit diet dates back at least seventy five years! It's always cool to catch a movie that delivers in an unexpected way, and here, Jimmy Cagney is at his best as a fast talking con man, er..., entrepreneur as it were, capitalizing on every opportunity to turn a profit from the expectations of a gullible public. Funny, but it never seemed like he was trying to make a bundle, it just kind of worked out that way. What makes the picture so delightful is the equally versatile Ruth Donnelly, portraying Lefty Merrill's (Cagney) future, whenever we get around to it, mother-in-law. Lil Walters is one track minded to a fault; she'll marry off her daughter Ruth (Mary Brian) to the highest bidder at the drop of a dollar bill. She also has some of the film's snappiest dialog, and it's a toss up as to who's quicker on their feet, Ma Walters or Lefty. As a result, Lefty's girlfriend is almost left in the dust in most of her scenes, she just can't keep up the frenetic pace set by Cagney and Donnelly.

Say now, is it really possible that those Depression era dance marathons went as long as eight weeks or more?!!! That's how the picture opens while introducing the entire cast of principal characters. I thought it was a neat touch that the occasion had it's own marathon foot specialist. Kind of makes sense doesn't it?

Throughout the story, Cagney's character comes up with scheme after scheme, making lemonade out of every lemon thrown his way. The entire film is a hoot, the only problem being it's not commercially available, so you'll have to be lucky to catch it on a cable channel or source it through a private collector. It's worth it though to catch an early Cagney flick, even if you have to rewind the picture a number of times to understand all the dialog. Cagney's lines are so quick you can't catch them all the first time around!
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Decent But Not The Best of Early Cagney
Handlinghandel6 September 2006
James Cagney is better in the Roy del Ruth movies of this period. However, he was a dynamic, unstoppable force. He is believable here as a goodhearted con artist with a good heart.

He has some great scenes: In one, he runs down flight after flight of a winding staircase.

Mary Brian is the nominal leading lady. She's OK. But Ruth Donnelly is really Cagney's co-star here. Playing Brian's avaricious, canny mother, she is hilarious. Nobody can put one over on her. If anyone tries, she'll bounce right back. She'll change her tune. She'll double-cross and triple-cross to get what she wants for herself and her pretty daughter.

Donnelly was a reliable supporting performer in more movies than anyone could easily count. Rarely did she get such a role. She grabs it and runs with it. She and Cagney are fantastic together. It's a shame they were never teamed again.
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Who Could Really Handle James Cagney?
bkoganbing17 July 2006
Hard to Handle has James Cagney dusting off his role as con man that he debuted with in Blonde Crazy. That film was a bit more serious and had the virtue of Joan Blondell.

Here the Blondell role is split in two and Cagney deals with a mother/ daughter duo of Ruth Donnelly and Mary Brian. Like Blondell, Donnelly gives as good as she gets from Cagney.

Donnelly and Cagney were roughly the same age and Brian was about six years younger than Cagney. Ridiculous now when you think about Donnelly and Brian being mother and daughter. No film maker could get away with that casting now.

There's no real story to this film, Cagney moves from one con to another, skirting ever so close to illegality. Donnelly and Brian are alternately for and against him and not at the same time either at certain points.

It's a film that relies solely on the charm of Jimmy Cagney which is considerable. And it's the stuff Cagney was disputing with Jack Warner over.

His last con involved the marketing of grapefruit, from the man who made grapefruit tossing a national past time at breakfast/
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Top-notch simple programmer from Warner
MartinHafer17 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This movie was never intended as a film that would change the world. No, instead it was like a lot of Warner Brother films--a formula piece with modest pretensions starring one of their "old reliable" actors. And, in this light, this is a very likable film--so good, I almost gave it a score of 8. The acting is very good and the direction provides a fast pace that holds your attention even though the plot itself is so very simple. As a result, the audiences got exactly what they paid for and left very happy.

Jimmy plays an idea man--sort of like a freelance promoter. While the summary on IMDb says he was a "con man" this is not the case--his ideas were honest at heart--he just knew how to bend the truth a little to sell an idea! When the film starts, there is a dance marathon occurring that Cagney has organized. It's a great success and Cagney's girl (Mary Brian) is about to win. However, Cagney's unscrupulous partner absconds with the money and he is nearly torn apart by the audience. Throughout the film, Cagney comes up with idea after idea and sells them to companies that manufacture face cream or sell land. The only idea that fails is a promotion to encourage the public to frequent an oceanside pier--you'll need to see how it backfires yourself! Throughout all these ups and downs and schemes, Mary's mother, played by Ruth Donnelly, is a real schemer herself. Her number one goal is getting her daughter married to the richest man possible--regardless of what they guy is like. When Cagney is down, she hates him and won't let Mary give him the time of day and when he is rich and successful, he's her "favorite future son-in-law". This is funny for a while, but she was so transparent and one-dimensional (and obvious "funny" character by design), that I soon found her to be the weakest character in the film--becoming a bit too predictable and monotonous.

But, whatever this character lacks or any other character for that matter, Cagney's intense energy more than makes up for it. And while the energetic and manic Cagney is all wrong for many films, it is perfect for this one (as well as movies like ONE, TWO, THREE). He single-handedly carries the film and is just a lot of fun to like. I really think his character works because while "full of blarney", he IS basically decent and honest! If he had been full of larceny, then his character would have been difficult, if not impossible to like--like Spencer Tracy was in The Show-Off (1934). And, in this case it was very easy to like him and want him to succeed.
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Energetic all the way
jonerogers10 November 2018
I have seen this numerous times and loved it the same each time. Being a devout cagney fan I love all his traits and especially his laughter.

Don't get me wrong he plays the script and follows his lines but as any actor has he has his own mannerisms and quirky ways.

This is the story of a con man who teams up with the usual blonde with one exception he gets the battleaxe mother too and she is exceptionally funny with it. Cagney laughs in every scene as he goes from one con to another. His energy is big, it's like he is dancing through this film.

The usual ups and downs, dumb blondes, twists and double crossings make this a short, energetic film a good one.

Overall funny film, fun and happy times.
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Unseen "gold digger" gem
wetcircuit24 December 2017
Ignore the haters that didn't appreciate this unpolished gem from the gold digger era. It's Cagney in a romantic comedy as a low-grade con man, against a mother-daughter team in matching outfits looking to bag a rich husband. When his scams profit, mother Ruth Donnelly thinks he's a perfect mate for daughter Mary Brian, but when his fortunes turn as they often do, the ladies switch polarity. Donnelly never misses an opportunity to kick him while he's down, meanwhile Brian's passion for underdogs cools when he's in the black.

If you're looking for Cagney as a toughguy gangster this isn't it, although the film takes some timely, self-aware potshots at Cagney's image including grapefruit jokes. Here his schemes are mostly harmless like rigging a dance contest, and he's as likely to be scammed as he is to make a big score. I can see how his fans might be disappointed, but Cagney was also a song-and-dance man and a self-depricating comedian. Gold digger comedies, like crime-genre and noir, are filled with amoral characters and backstabbing frenemies but played for laughs. It's easy to forgive shady motives when the leads are wholesome Dick Powell and sunny Priscilla Lane. James Cagney on the otherhand has electricity and an edge that plays for darker characters. Here he's forced to rely on charm and guile - you may be waiting for him to bust up the joint and rub out his enemies, but gold digger heroes are lovers not fighters. This isn't his best fit, but "date movie" Cagney is the nicer guy who doesn't smash citrus in women's faces.

Ruth Donnelly anchors the meandering plot as the most gold digger-y character in a gold digger comedy. What kills the film is the casting of elegant Mary Brian who mostly stands around looking pretty. Her "inverse barometer" reactions to Cagney's ups and downs would have played better with a more sexual screen presence. She represents the female sexual urge, while mother Donnelly represents the brain, conflicted over bad-boy Cagney's tumultuous circumstances. They dress alike because they metaphorically are one woman, but also because it's funny hanging a lampshade on their mother-daughter bear trap. The clever subtext is that Cagney can't win the girl until he figures out how to appeal to both women's sensibilities at the same time.
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Frenzied, Frantic, and Funny!
mark.waltz8 April 2015
Warning: Spoilers
A half hour segment of the end of a dance marathon (featuring two couples battling until the end) sets up the hilarity for this battle of lovers (the girl with a delightfully domineering mother, the boy with a hysterically cynical sense of life) where the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the marathon prize money leads to more complications and more cons thanks to Cagney's hilarious scheming. A fascinating crisp & fast-moving screenplay keeps the film going at a high speed, and Cagney delivers each line as if he was swallowing a grapefruit whole. Mary Brian is an appealing heroine, but it is Ruth Donnelly as her fast-talking mother who really steals the film from the moment she is introduced watching her daughter in the final moments of the marathon. A fascinating supporting cast features some wonderful character players, among them Allen Jenkins as the marathon announcer and Sterling Holloway ("Winnie the Pooh") as part of the second remaining couple in the marathon.
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Fair Cagney
Michael_Elliott29 February 2008
Hard to Handle (1933)

** (out of 4)

James Cagney plays a hustler who fixes contests where the winners get a small amount of money while he makes it rich. Once again we get Cagney playing a fast talker and for the most part the film remains entertaining, although it's certainly lite all around. Mary Brian is great as the love interest and Ruth Donnelly steals the show as her loud mouth mother. There's a nice spoof of the grapefruit scene from The Public Enemy.

As of now this one isn't available on DVD so you'll have to keep your eyes on Turner Classic Movies.
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"I'd marry Tarzan of the Apes for a year's rent"
utgard1421 July 2014
Early James Cagney movie about a broke hustler who wants to marry a girl but her shrewish mother is dead set on making sure her daughter marries into money. I feel like I'm missing something here. I love Cagney movies and this one has a good score and some positive reviews. Yet I wasn't impressed with it. Cagney's the whole show with a boundless energy that is enjoyable enough but the story is just weak. I didn't laugh once and this is supposed to be (at least partially) a comedy. I also see some praise for Ruth Donnelly but she really got on my nerves throughout the whole picture. It's really more of how the part is written than her acting. I'd still recommend it to Cagney fans but others might be better off finding something else to do for an hour.
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