“Most people think if they pay a few dollars to a community chest and goodwill agencies and so on, they’ve done their duty and they can shrug aside all responsibility. But you’ve got to do more than that.”
Fritz Lang was one of the greatest directors of all time. He was one of the masters of the early silent films and of the German Expressionism that he brought with him when he got to Hollywood. Metropolis and M with Peter Lorre are two of the most renowned silent films ever made, and unlike many actors and directors, he was able to bring his style and talent forward when the talkies started bringing sound to our movie theaters. His later sound pictures included Beyond A Reasonable Doubt with Dana Andrews and The Return Of Frank James with Henry Fonda and Jackie Cooper. But Lang had one film he considered his first and biggest failure. It wasn’t that he thought the film was bad; it wasn’t. It just never caught on and pretty much lost money at the box office. That film was You And Me with George Raft and Sylvia Sidney. It’s one of the few surviving Lang films I never saw, and that’s hard to believ,e because I’m also a huge fan of George Raft. It’s not a film that has been easily available, but now thanks to the folks at KL Studio Classics, it’s out on Blu-ray. I finally got to see it, and now you can, too.
Joe Dennis (Raft) works at a department store owned by Mr. Morris (Carey). He makes it a habit of offering jobs to ex-cons, much to the dismay of his wife. So far it has worked out quite well. He finds ex-cons will work hard when they are trying to turn their lives around just like Joe. Joe meets Helen Roberts (Sidney), and the two of them fall in love. Joe is happy that a woman has finally fallen for him who wasn’t also an ex-con. But he’s in for a few surprises. She tells him that they have to hide their marriage from Morris because he doesn’t want his employees to marry each other. Joe finds out that may be true when he discovers an openly married couple working at the store. Helen makes up a story about their being his family so he had to let them work there. Meanwhile a few of his old prison-mates are pressuring him into coming in on a big job. They’re going to hit the department store. Joe resists the temptation until he finds out that Helen has been lying to him all along. She’s on parole and not allowed to marry. That’s why she’s hiding the relationship. When he confronts her, she admits the truth, and he walks out and right into the arms of his old gang to join the heist.
The heist is run by Mickey (MacLane), who gets himself a lawyer to cover himself but not the rest of the boys. He’s also being warned not to pull the job by the local unseen Mr. Big. A member of the gang, Gimpy (Hymer) is having second thoughts and wants to see Helen and Joe back together. So he rats to Helen about the job so that when they break into the store that night they’re confronted by Mr. Morris, Helen, and armed guards. But Morris doesn’t want to send them back to prison. He insists they listen to a talk from Helen and then expects them back at work the next morning. He leaves them alone with Helen, who does some interesting math on a blackboard. I was almost expecting an Abbott & Costello routine here, but she ends up showing them that after a $30,000 expected heist, they’d each net about $133 in order to prove that they are making out better working for Morris than stealing from him. In an unlikely turn of events, they all get the lesson and almost cheerfully leave to work tomorrow. All except Joe, who still has a chip on his shoulder and stays when everyone is gone. But after thinking it over in the dark store, he ends up picking up a bottle of expensive perfume to make up with Helen … and he leaves the money for it in the unmanned register.
But Helen doesn’t want him back. What Joe doesn’t know is that she’s pregnant and going away to have the baby. With the help of the gang they spread out and find her in a hospital just as she’s had the baby, and Joe gets there just in time to meet his new kid.
The working title was Wonderful, and it was written by Norman Krasna, who wrote it to become his first time as a director. George Raft was already attached, but with Helen Burgess as his leading lady. Krasner was also in talks with Carole Lombard to replace Burgess. Of course, none of this ended up happening. Raft wasn’t so keen on a first-time director, and Richard Wallace was brought in, and Sylvia Sidney was cast as the new leading lady. But she wasn’t happy with Wallace and put in a pitch for Fritz Lang, who had directed her earlier in Fury, which was ironically also written by Norman Krasner. It seems the film came full circle and was finally made in 1938, a full two years after the process had started.
The film would also diverge from Lang’s typical style by having musical numbers. Now this isn’t really a musical, and the songs are more chants and rhythmic beats than the kinds of songs you might have been used to seeing from Hollywood at the time. Lang brought in an old friend, German composer Kurt Weill, who added the unique musical style you’ll find here. If you dislike musicals, don’t let that stop you here, because that’s not exactly what’s going on. It’s likely this unique approach to “songs” in the film that led to its box office defeat. If you went in expecting a traditional musical, you were very disappointed. In later years for re-release the music aspect of the film was dropped from the marketing campaign.
You might find the film unusual and a bit whimsical, but the actors are playing it straight the entire time. George Raft plays off his gangster type and at times gives us that frightening Raft stare that I recognize from so many late-show gangster films when I was a kid. Sylvia Sidney has pretty solid chemistry with Raft, and the ensemble of the gang is a nice collection of types and characters. I used to watch films like this as a kid on television, and now decades later I’m still watching these old gems. “Ain’t it funny how them habits hang on?”