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Now I'll Tell  /  Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly Conduct (1932)
March 11, 2015 - 7:30 pm
James Curtis, author, "Spencer Tracy: A Biography."

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Louis B. Mayer Foundation, Eleanor and Glenn Padnick, The Packard Humanities Institute, and The Estate of Ronald Terry Shedlo

Now I'll Tell  (1934)

Gangster Arnold Rothstein, remembered in history as the man who fixed the 1919 World Series, was shot in 1928 and, as he lay dying, refused to name his killer.  In 1933, Fox Film contracted his widow, Carolyn Rothstein, to write a tell-all book as the basis for a film à clef in which, camouflaged as “Virginia Golden,” she became a paragon of virtue, wringing her hands behind a firewall of blithe ignorance.

Substantive details were provided by her ghostwriter, Donald Henderson Clarke, a Rothstein confidante who had published In the Reign of Rothstein in 1929.  “My picture of Rothstein,” he wrote, “… is simply of a quiet, mediumsized man, inconspicuously dressed, in this restaurant or that, in this courtroom or that, or strolling on a sidewalk with a friend, frequently reaching down to snap the garter on his sock, his ready laughter revealing those white, even, artificial teeth, hardly whiter than his pallid skin, which was like a woman’s.”  Dramatic fabrications were added by writer-director Edwin Burke until the full title of the resulting film, Now I’ll Tell by Mrs. Arnold Rothstein, became something of a misnomer.

Spencer Tracy is designated “Murray Golden,” changed at the behest of the Production Code Administration, which unofficially forbade the celebration of name criminals.  As portrayed by the stately Helen Twelvetrees, Virginia is a patrician blueblood antithetical to the 21-year-old showgirl, Carolyn Greene, whom Rothstein wed in 1909.  To accommodate the Baseball Commission, Murray Golden fixes boxing matches, not baseball games and his narrative is unencumbered by other Rothstein diversions like bootlegging, labor racketeering and murder.  Variety wasn’t buying the subterfuge, cagily noting that Tracy’s Golden resembled Rothstein “in his moods and methods, many of which will be recognized by those who knew or studied him.”  Shirley Temple’s kidlet gets the smiles but Alice Faye’s prostitute gets the musical number in this restored pre-Code version.  —Scott MacQueen

Director:  Edwin J. Burke.  Production: Fox Film Corp.  Distribution: Fox Film Corp.  Producer: Winfield Sheehan.  Screenwriter: Edwin Burke.  Based on the book Now I’ll Tell by Mrs. Arnold Rothstein. Cinematographer: Ernest Palmer.  Art Direction: Jack Otterson.  Editor: Harold Shuster.  Music: Arthur Lange.  Cast: Spencer Tracy, Helen Twelvetrees, Alice Faye, Robert Gleckler, Henry O’Neill.  35mm, b/w, 87 min.

Restored from a 35mm nitrate print and a 35mm nitrate composite dupe negative.  Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Film Technology Company, Inc., Pacific Title & Art Studio, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Simon Daniel Sound.  Restored in association with 20th Century Fox.  Special thanks to: Katie Trainor—the Museum of Modern Art.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by 20th Century Fox

Disorderly Conduct  (1932)

In his seventh picture with Fox Film Corporation, and the first to achieve box office success since his debut in 1930’s Up The River, Spencer Tracy broke free of the typecasting that had relegated him to roles as crooks, con men and mugs played for comedic effect, and took on the role of good-natured but embattled lead in this morally complex police melodrama.

As payback for refusing a bribe from a bootlegging racket and arresting an influential politician’s daughter for speeding, ambitious but brusquely honest motorcycle cop Dick Fay (Tracy) is demoted to patrolman and banished to a distant precinct.  Disillusioned by the corrupt system that punishes him, Fay lapses into crooked and reckless behavior, challenging the authority of precinct captain Tom Manning (Ralph Bellamy) and accepting graft from a gambling den.  Fay’s relationship with Manning, known in the department as “Honest Tom,” becomes increasingly adversarial, as a cynical Fay scoffs at exhortations to be on the level.  Their animosity flares over Manning’s fiancée, who happens to be none other than Phyllis Crawford, the entitled young lady who brought about Fay’s downfall.  A police raid on the gambling hall causes events to escalate out of Fay’s control, and leads to tragedy as the racketeers seek vengeance for Fay’s double-dealing.  Remorseful for his role in the events, Fay seeks to mend his crooked ways and redeem himself.

Though still largely unknown to the public—a contemporary Variety survey of the 133 top box office talents neglected to include Tracy at all—critics picked up on Tracy’s “highly commendable performance,” and his pivotal scene at the height of film’s tragedy proves a marker for his tensely wound, internalized performance style, and a harbinger of the acclaimed career and roles yet to come.  —Nina Rao

Director: John W. Considine Jr.  Production: Fox Film Corp.  Distribution: Fox Film Corp.  Screenwriter: William Anthony McGuire.  Cinematographer: Ray June.  Art Direction: Duncan Cramer.  Cast: Spencer Tracy, Sally Eilers, El Brendel, Dickie Moore, Ralph Bellamy.  35mm, b/w, 82 min.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive and 20th Century Fox from a 35mm nitrate composite print.  Laboratory services by YCM Laboratories, Chace Audio by Deluxe.  Special thanks to: Schawn Belston, Caitlin Robertson—20th Century Fox.