Pre-Code Crazy: Central Park (1932)
Why did I pick Central Park (1932) for my Pre-code Crazy selection of the month? Because, for gosh sakes, it’s got everything in it but the kitchen sink – resulting in an economical 57 minutes of sheer entertainment! (Plus, it stars Joan Blondell. I actually should have said that first!)
Central Park is set – where else? – in New York’s Central Park, focusing primarily on Dot (Joan Blondell) and Rick (Wallace Ford), unemployed youngsters who “meet cute” over a couple of pilfered hot dogs. But as easy as they are on the eyes, they’re far from the only interesting thing about this film. Here’re some other reasons to check out this pre-Code gem:
- Beat cop Charlie Cabot (Guy Kibbee) who has watched over the park for 30 years, is now just a week away from retirement, and he’s also losing his eyesight. What do you want to bet that these two factors will come into play during the movie?
- Dot gets caught up in a scheme by a couple of crooks posing as cops to rip off a beauty contest fundraiser, which will crown “Fifth Avenue’s Most Beautiful Girl.” The cost of admission is one hundred dollars, which is earmarked to help the city’s unemployed citizens. (Quite a hefty sum, seeing as this is the Depression!)
- Lion-loving Robert Smiley (John Wray), a former keeper at the Central Park Zoo, escapes from the insane asylum. He’s described by one character as “strong as an ox and crazy as a loon,” and another – Luke (Charles Sellon) – makes fun of him, joking that Smiley mails postcards to the lions and recently sent a box of chocolates to a leopard. Turns out that Luke and Smiley weren’t exactly bosom pals back in the day; unlike Smiley, Luke’s not fond of the big cats (he frequently teases Nebo, the zoo’s African lion, with a broom handle), and Smiley attacked Luke with a meat ax just before he was hauled off to the” booby hatch.” What do you want to bet that Smiley heads straight for Central Park?
- The two fake cops abduct Rick and keep him hostage at their hideout, suspecting that he knows about their plot to steal the contest money. Left alone with one of the members of their gang, Rick calls upon his skills as a former rodeo performer to pull off a slick maneuver that lands his captor on the floor, ass over teakettle. Quite a nifty brawl follows. You’ll want to cheer.
- A series of bizarre circumstances results in Nebo the lion’s escape from his cage – he makes his way through the park (at one point actually climbing into a taxicab, but unless I blinked, we never saw how he got out), leaving screaming crowds in his wake, and he winds up in the ballroom that’s jam-packed with Park Avenue swells. (It’s really something to see.)
- Sweet-faced and unassuming, Rick turns out to be a real action hero – fearlessly chasing robbers, dodging bullets, capturing killers. He’s like the Depression-era Superman!
And just for giggles, here’re a few other tidbits about the movie:
- The cast includes Henry B. Walthall, a star from the silent movie era, who portrayed Eby, one of the workers at the zoo. He died of influenza at the age of 58, four years after the release of Central Park. (Incidentally, this is the first movie in which I noticed Walthall as a performer; before this, I only was aware of him because Louise Closser Hale mentioned him by name in Dinner at Eight.)
- The film’s director, John Adolfi, also died in his 50s – the year after he directed Central Park, he suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage. Adolfi started his career as an actor, later formed a partnership with George Arliss, and directed several of Arliss’s films, including The Man Who Played God (1932) and Voltaire (1933).
- One of the writers of the film’s screenplay was Earl Baldwin, a prolific writer who also penned the screenplays for Blondie Johnson (1933), Wild Boys of the Road (1933), and Brother Orchid, among many others.
- Central Park was one of 10 films in which Joan Blondell appeared in 1932, and it was one of several in which she appeared with Guy Kibbee; others included Big City Blues (1932), Gold Diggers of 1933, and Dames (1934).
Central Park airs on TCM on September 11th, first thing in the morning. Don’t miss it. And be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to see what pre-Code flick Kristina’s crazy about this month!
You only owe it to yourself.