Johnny Come Lately (1943); The Inside Story (1948)

Johnny Come Lately (1943)
March 11, 2013 - 7:30 pm
In-person: 
actresses Marsha Hunt and Marjorie Lord.

Preservation funded by The Packard Humanities Institute

Johnny Come Lately (1943)

Johnny Come Lately (1943)

Directed by William K. Howard

Buoyed by the critical and commercial success of Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), and following a series of well-publicized contract disputes with Warner Brothers, in 1942 James Cagney struck out with younger brother William to form the independent production company Cagney Productions. Johnny Come Lately would be the first of three films produced by the venture, an attempt to allow Cagney to expand his acting repertoire beyond the wisecracking, pugnacious gangster roles that had made him famous.

Set in small-town America in 1906, the film finds Cagney playing Tom Richards, a kind-hearted drifter and sometime newspaperman who helps elderly widow Vinnie McLeod (Grace George) save her newspaper and overcome leading citizen Bill Dougherty’s corrupt hold on the town. Loitering in the town square of seemingly-idyllic Plattsville, Tom is warned by Vinnie of the town’s harsh treatment of vagrants, but is heedless and winds up in court, where it becomes apparent that the judge and most of Plattsville is under the thumb of the deep-pocketed Dougherty. 

Taking an interest in Tom’s plight, Vinnie saves him from being sentenced to a work gang by hiring him for her newspaper, which is under heavy pressure from Dougherty and his rival paper. Tom in turn becomes the widow’s protector and champion of her cause, as her paper fights to expose Dougherty’s machinations. Here, Cagney’s wit and sureness are employed in the service of good: with a bit of guile, a lot of muckraking journalism, and a clever deployment of ketchup, Richards manages to maneuver the townsfolk (including Marjorie Main as loud-mouthed roadhouse proprietress Gashouse Mary) to Vinnie’s side. In this endeavor, though, Cagney is not too far removed from his bruising wise guy ways for the thrills of a shootout, high-speed carriage chase, and some vigorous fisticuffs.

Though Cagney Productions would ultimately be reconfigured as part of Warner Brothers, Johnny Come Lately and subsequent productions provided a trailblazing model in more ways than one; as a Saturday Evening Post article of the time observed: “They go about the business of making independent productions with pleasant informality, and there is a minimum of screaming and hair-tearing on the Cagney sets.” 

Nina Rao

Cagney Productions, Inc./United Artists Corp. Producer: William Cagney. Screenwriter: John Van Druten. Cinematographer: Theodor Sparkuhl. Editor: George Arthur. With: James Cagney, Grace George, Marjorie Main, Marjorie Lord, Hattie McDaniel.

35mm, b/w, 97 min.

Preserved by The Academy Film Archive and UCLA Film & Television Archive in cooperation with Paramount Pictures from a 35mm nitrate composite fine grain master positive. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Simon Daniel Sound.

Preservation funded by The Packard Humanities Institute

The Inside Story (1948)

The Inside Story (1948)

Directed by Allan Dwan

The financial themes of The Inside Story must have resonated strongly with audiences of the time; 1948 was marked by monetary tightening and an economic downturn, anxious reminders of the economic uncertainty of the 1930s and the tenuous ongoing shift to a post-World War II peacetime economy. Indeed, the film’s opening titles suggest that the story about to unfold may have happened all across America, and that its teller, Uncle Ed, can be found in every small town.

Bookended by a present-day conversation in a bank deposit vault between Uncle Ed (played with folksy, genial charm by Charles Winninger in one of his last roles) and another bank customer who, to Uncle Ed’s disapproval, is hoarding a considerable sum of cash in his deposit box, the main action of The Inside Story, as related by Uncle Ed, takes place during the emergency bank holiday of 1933.

With banks closed and cash in short supply, the town of Silver Creek, Vermont is struggling, as residents are unable to pay their debts and keep their businesses running. A series of comedic misunderstandings ensue when innkeeper Horace Taylor (Gene Lockhart) mistakes $1,000 left in his safe for a payment from painter Waldo Williams (William Lundigan), indebted hotel guest and would-be fiancé of Horace’s daughter. Unfortunately, the money belongs to an out-of-towner anxious to get back to New York. Horace's increasingly desperate attempts to right his mistake demonstrate the importance of circulating money, as the cash passes through the hands of several townsfolk in turn, always one step ahead of the frantic Horace. 

In a wry depiction of shifting Depression-era social and economic conditions, Horace’s money troubles are compounded by the presence of a pair of shifty bootleggers loafing in the hotel lobby, and he and other townspeople struggle to adjust to their daughters’ and wives’ new roles as family breadwinners. Money circulation has perhaps never been quite so entertaining an enterprise, and the value of a dollar so illuminated, as in this timely small-town comedy from Republic Pictures and the incredibly prolific Allan Dwan.

Nina Rao

Republic Pictures Corp. Screenwriters: Mary Loos and Richard Sale. Based on an original story by: Ernest Lehman and Geza Herczeg. Cinematographer: Reggie Lanning. Editor: Arthur Roberts. With: Marsha Hunt, William Lundigan, Charles Winninger, Gail Patrick, Gene Lockhart.

35mm, b/w, 87 min.

Preserved in conjunction with Paramount Pictures from a 35mm nitrate composite fine grain master. Laboratory Services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio.

Preceded by

Preservation funded by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the AFI/NEA Film Preservation Grants Program

John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946)

Directed by George Pal

A puppetoon about John Henry, the steel driver of American legend. 

Paramount Pictures Inc. Producer: George Pal. With: Rex Ingram (narrator). 

35mm, color, approx. 7 min.