Saturday, May 26, 2012

DVD Review: Taxi (1932)

Taxi (1932)

(Released: January 24, 2012 by The Warner Archive Collection)  

Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Summary:  The most iconic film you never heard of! 

We all know that, despite what popular folklore would have you believe, Humphrey Bogart never actually said Play it again, Sam!”

And, even though he never actually said it, we know what film the bogus-Bogie quote comes from: Casablanca. 

Similarly, every would-be impressionist would also have you believe that James Cagney said: You dirty rat! You killed my brother!” He didn’t actually say that either. 

Ah, but can you name the film he is alleged to have said it in? 

Bet‘cha can’t… unless you look up to the top of this post!  ...Or down at this poster!

Viewing “Taxi” for the first time, I could identify TWO actual quotes that might have morphed into the Cagney faux-quote of legend. They are:

That dirty rat kills Danny, an’ you help him get away with it!” At 57:40 of the 01:08:55 film.

Or, even more likely… (Cagney with gun drawn)

Come out an’ take it, ya dirty yellow-bellied rat – or I’ll give it to ya right through the door!”  At 01:03:91. 

So, with another of life’s mysteries apparently solved, let’s move on to other aspects of the film. 

“Taxi” is early enough in the canon of Warner Bros. talking pictures that it opens with: “Warner Bros. Pictures and the Vitaphone Corp. Present” – with the familiar Warner Bros. Shield – its lowermost point superimposed over the “Vitaphone Pennant” logo. 

Both Shield and Pennant are transparent, overlaying the opening shot of a bustling New York street.  This may be one of the earliest appearances of “The Shield”, as other films of this vintage, such as Edward G. Robinson’s “Little Caesar” and “Five Star Final” (the latter referenced in this very film!), did not display it.

The setting is 1932 New York City, and one wonders if the title of the film is really just “Taxi”, as animated graphics, superimposed over a bustling Manhattan street, come at you in rapid fashion: “Taxi” “Taxi” “Taxi”! 

Might the actual title of the piece be “Taxi! Taxi! Taxi!?  Or, is it simply so nice, you say it thrice”!

The opening also offers a magnificent cheat, in that we cut to a huge-type newspaper headline that says: “WAR DECLARED!”

(GASP! Goes the collective audience, still WW I weary, and with WW II still to come!)

Then, we pan down to lower font type: “Rival taxicab companies contest bitterly for City’s business!”

…Guess the joke’s on us, eh? 

But that is, at least, the partial basis for “Taxi”, as the mighty and unscrupulous “Consolidated Cab Company” moves to squeeze out the independent drivers by means fair or foul.  Mostly foul. 

They harass, block, or outright smash the vehicles of the indies, and use other strong-arm tactics to take over the whole ball o’ wax.  …Um, one could say they don’t play “FARE”!  Taxi!  Fare!  Get it?  That’s a joke, son! 

Apologies for the Foghorn Leghorn image here… I just couldn’t help myself.  And, Foghorn *IS* a Warner Bros. star, after all. 

When beloved old cabbie “Pop Riley” is killed in such an incident, fiery young cabbie Matt Nolan (Cagney) is driven to unite the indies into action against Consolidated.  A series of events leads to Nolan’s romance with “Pop Riley’s” daughter Sue (Loretta Young), and the murder of Nolan’s brother Danny.  This, of course, takes us to the quote/non-quote about “Dirty Rats and Brothers”. 

When I described the “taxi wars” as the partial basis for “Taxi”, it is because it starts out as exactly that, and then moves almost completely away from the taxicab business, and into a murder/revenge crime melodrama – where it remains until its end. 

The narrative of “Taxi” almost certainly influenced THIS LATER WARNER FILM, which exhibits the same structure – starting out as a look into a certain type of “rolling business with indies vs. establishment” shifting toward murder as its main plot element.

Indeed, certain elements of “Taxi” may stand out more than its overall story.  Here are a few oddities I found: 

Cagney’s Nolan takes Sue to a movie: “Her Hour of Love” starring Donald Cook and Evelyn Knapp.  Thing is, there is NO SUCH MOVIE and Cook and Knapp filmed one made-up scene to give the lovebirds something to watch.  Ya think they would have worked in footage of an existing WB film, rather than incur the expense of doing this. 

Oddly, sharing the exterior movie theatre marquee with “Her Hour of Love” is “Five Star Final”, an ACTUAL 1931 Warner Bros. film, starring Edward G. Robinson and a pre-Frankenstein Boris Karloff!  Since they used both the title and Robinson’s name for a throwaway establishing shot, one wonders why they stopped short of using a clip from “Five Star Final” for the scene.

Nolan and Sue complete with another finalist couple in a dance contest – the male contestant played by an uncredited George Raft – Cagney’s co-star in the great Warner prison picture “Each Dawn I Die” (1939)!

And, during that “dance contest” sequence, a brief snippet of “Yankee Doodle” plays… a tune that would intersect with Cagney in a much more significant way later on.

Robert Emmett O’Connor, who ironically got Cagney into big-time crime in The Public Enemy (1931) and, conversely, played an Irish Cop in Cagney’s Picture Snatcher (1933), is also an Irish Cop in “Taxi”.  He is probably the best celluloid Irish Cop ever. 

Leila Bennett is also a standout as Sue’s friend “Ruby”.

Observant fans of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies will notice the mechanical sound of the “platform elevator” that often carries Bugs Bunny up and out of his rabbit hole, as the background sound effect of an elevator that carries Nolan and Sue on their way to obtain a marriage license.  Look (actually, listen) for it at about 30:05. 

On that topic, Looney Tunes’ film editor Treg Brown clearly raided Warner Bros. movies for many of the sound effects heard in those cartoons… cannons firing, gunshots, gates crashing down, arrows flying, etc.  The more old Warner films I watch, from this perspective, the more I notice that.

Great quote from Cagney’s Nolan, during his stormy, up-and-down romance with Sue:

I wouldn’t go with dat dame, if she was the last woman on Earth… an’ I just got outta the Navy!”  …That last clause REALLY makes it, wouldn’t you say? 

Lastly, the notables are not without their downside, as Cagney and company visit a Harlem nightclub called “Cottenpicken’s”, where the décor is adorned with images of watermelon, dice, and the like.  Regrettable, but that was Hollywood in the ‘30s. 

 Taxi” is a release of “The Warner Archive Collection”.  Please GO HERE to read more about this relatively new enterprise from Warner Home Entertainment.  . 

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.  


It’s Warner Archives:   That means virtually nothing in the way of Extra Features. No commentary, subtitles, logical chapter skips – or even MENUS specifically designed for this movie.  No background or “Making Of” featurette. No “Warner Night at the Movies” that I’ve loved so much in other packages!  And, there is a needlessly limited choice of devices on which to play it (no computers), vs. standard DVD. 

No Theatrical Trailer:  I know that Warner Archives releases are “No Frills”, but one could always count on the inclusion of a Theatrical Trailer at the very least!  No trailer is included in this release of “Taxi”.  I’ll be generous and allow for the possibility that, as a 1932 film – and still an early talking picture, a trailer may no longer exist.  If that is the case, though, it should be noted somewhere on the disc’s packaging or menu.   
A Chaser, but No Trailer!
Menu: (Singular):  The Main (and only) Menu takes a step back for this series of releases.  (Humphrey Bogart’s 1945 film “Conflict”, released by WAC on the same day – and REVIEWED HERE, exhibits the same regression in menu design.  So this can be considered a backward trend.).  Recent WAC menus offered a nice departure from the original standard, stark dark blue Warner Archives menu.  To the left, there was an attractive photo of “The Warner Bros. Theatre” (Was there actually such a thing?), with the marquee reading: “Now Playing: [Insert Name of Film Here], and a large image of the DVD box cover is pictured on the right of the menu. 
The Plain Old Blue Menu!

For this latest series of releases, it’s just an image of an indistinct brick building at left, the iconic Warner Water Tower at right, with a medium blue sky backdrop.  There is NO picture of the DVD box cover – or ANY mention of the particular film you have purchased!  Only the options to “Play Trailer” (though NO trailer in this case) and “Play Movie” are offered on this single generic menu.


It’s Warner Archives:   That means we get a film that would probably not garner sufficient support for a general release.  Given a choice between “Taxi” as a Warner Archive Collection release, or no release at all, I’ll gladly take a WAC version.

I fear, as the DVD market contracts (what with downloading and most of the “best material” having already been released), more and more of the remaining as-of-yet-unreleased material will come via avenues such as this one.  But, up to now, we’ve sure gotten a LOT of great stuff.  More than I could have ever imagined some years ago.  So, if the “last of it” arrives in this form… so be it. 

Chapter Skips:  Oddly, unlike the concurrent release of Bogart’s Conflictwhich regressed to the fixed 10-minute interval Chapter Skips of the earliest WAC releases, this presentation of Taxi” offers Chapter Skips that work more logically within the film.  Why one release returns us to the “10-minute intervals” and another from the same batch offers a more logical approach is unknown, but it does merit Taxi” a PRO for Chapter Skips in this review.  

Robo-Promos:  The usual “Warner Archive Collection” Robo-Promo, standard on earlier releases, appears to have been eliminated.  

Warnings: The overabundance of Warnings, present on standard Warner commercial releases (as in THIS ONE), has not manifested itself on Warner Archive Collection product.   

 The Film:   A Cagney Curio that may very well be (as I said up top) the most iconic film you never heard of, due to the origin of the oft-mimicked “Dirty Rat” quote. 

The Cast: 

·         James Cagney as “Matt Nolan”.  (Our Leading Man!)

·         Loretta Young as “Sue Riley Nolan”.  (Our Leading Lady!)

·         George E. Stone as “Skeets”. (Nothing to do with Booster Gold!) 

·         Ray Cooke as “Danny Nolan”.  (The “Killed Brother”)

·         David Landau as “Buck Gerard”.  (The “Dirty Rat”)

·         Guy Kibbee as “Pop Riley”. (Who GETS “Popped”)

·         Leila Bennett as “Ruby” (The Best “Noo Yawk” Gal Pal you could ever have!)

·         Robert Emmett O’Connor “Cop”. (Heavy on the “Irish”)

·         George Raft as “Male Dance Contestant”. (Each Dawn I Dance!)


Taxi”, being a product of “The Warner Archive Collection”, and not a standard Warner Home Video release, must be reviewed and rated by a new and different set of standards.   

There are no extras (…not even a darned Theatrical Trailer, in this case), and print quality is usually as good as the source material – with only minimal efforts at remastering.  In the case of “Taxi”, the print is sharper and more vivid than any film from 1932 has a right to be. 

As a film, “Taxi” is not memorable, nor will it ever be deemed a classic.  As a story, it does not “hang together” particularly well, but the viewing of ANY Cagney film is always time well spent.  …Even if “this time” is not as “well spent” as others.  You DO get the origin of one of the most iconic non-quotes ever to emerge from Hollywood, so take THAT away at the very least! 

Taxi” is recommended for fans of James Cagney and the type of Depression Era / Crime films that were Warner Bros’ specialty.


ramapith said...

Joe, I can't read your reviews without grinning from ear to ear. The inevitable intrusion of cartoon characters... face it, you just like to see the Looney Tunes title card with Bugs amid the concentric rings, don't you? (I do!)

Joe Torcivia said...

Ya, GOT me, Doc! ...Er, David!

Joe Torcivia said...

More to the point, having gotten SO into these old Warner Bros. movies of late, I can now see their connection to the Warner cartoons in ways the original theatrical audience *MAY* have been able to… but in ways WE, who just watched the cartoons – in isolation – on TV for years and years could never truly have!

One fed off the other in countless ways… all the way down to sound effects!

ramapith said...

I just like feeding off stuff.

Anonymous said...

A lot of classic movie quotes are really paraphrases. Or exaggerations. Cary Grant never said, "Judy, Judy, Judy," Bette Davis never said, "Peter, Peter, Peter," (or, "Petah, Petah, Petah"), and Johnny Weissmuller didn't say, "Me Tarzan, You Jane."

Joe Torcivia said...

Quite true, Anon!

In this case, though, I’d heard the “quote”, or variations on the “quote”, virtually all my life… but never knew where the “quote” was to have originated. Now I know… and hadda share!

Anonymous said...

Me, too. That is, I've often heard impressionists and comedians imitating Cagney saying, "You dirty rat, you killed my brudda," and I never knew if that was supposed to be an actual line from one of his movies, or if it just sounded like the kind of thing he would say.

Joe Torcivia said...

It IS amazing how that particular “quote”, of all the lines Cagney would have spoken over the years, took on a life of its own… far in excess of the film itself.

Everyone knows the “quote” (or some variation on it), but how many folks really and truly, know much, if anything, about “Taxi”?! …It was news to me!