Pre-Code Crazy: Two Seconds (1932)

Before I decided to choose Two Seconds (1932) for this month’s Pre-Code Crazy pick, I’d only seen the first five minutes of it – I’d never made it any further.

Boy, was I a dope.

This is a really good one, y’all. Trust me.

What’s it about?

To be honest, it was really hard for me to do the write-up for this one – I didn’t want to give away a single plot point or unexpected twist. But here goes. The film centers on John Allen (Edward G. Robinson) who, at the film’s start, is on his way to death in the electric chair. We learn from the prison doctor that after the current is turned on, his body will be paralyzed, but his brain will continue to function for approximately two seconds – “long enough for him to relive his whole life.”

Not exactly a gleesome threesome, if you know what I mean.

The rest of the film is a flashback that shows how John came to such an end. We learn that John and his best friend, Bud (Preston Foster), work as riveters on a skyscraper. One night, after Bud’s steady girl shows up with a gal pal for John who looks like “a truck horse,” John exits stage left and winds up in a local dance hall. There, he meets Shirley (Vivienne Osborne), a seen-it-all, take-no-crap taxi dancer who takes a liking to John.

And that’s where I’m going to stop my description. I really want you to discover every bit of this gem the way I did – with no clue about what was going to happen. (Unless, of course, you’ve already seen it, and in that case . . . well, never mind.)

What’s good about it?

First off, it’s got a real noirish feel to it – knowing from the start that John Allen is fated to die puts an undeniable air of doom over the proceedings. You can’t help wondering what could possibly happen to make such a stand-up guy commit a crime that would lead to his conviction and execution.

John and Shirley. A match made in …?

As an Everyman who thinks he’s got it all together but gets more than he bargained for at the hands of a woman, Edward G. Robinson indulges in a bit of scenery chewing – but he’s never boring, that’s for sure.  I’ve seen Robinson in countless films, but this film gave him a role that he could really sink his teeth into. And he wraps up his performance with a nearly four-minute monologue that you simply have to see to believe.

Vivienne Osborne was a revelation. She was in a few of my favorite pre-Codes (and she played the mother in one of my most beloved MST3K movies, I Accuse My Parents), but she was really something here. Shrewd, sexy, and self-absorbed, and as hard-boiled as they come, she spit her lines out like she didn’t like the taste. She was absolutely riveting.

One of the best things about the film was the pre-Code lingo and fantastic lines. Here are just a few of my favorites:

“Say, big boy – you sure are a swell little hoofer.” (It’s not an unusual line or anything – I just love the use of the words “Big Boy,” “swell” and “hoofer.”)

“What have you got to live for, that you’re so afraid of dying?”

One of the most chilling shots in the film. (Thanks to Danny at Pre-Code.Com for his skills!)

“I know her kind – she’s a softy. She got tired of grubbin’ for her own keep and you looked like three squares and a flop to her, so she hooked ya.”

“Since when did you examine a dollar to see who its father was?”

“Don’t make me laugh – it’ll crack my lips.”

“When it comes to playin’ around with a dame or poundin’ on a stick of dynamite, the real smart guy chooses the dynamite.”

“I know your kind. And so do lots of other guys, I’ll bet.”

“The worse thing you ever did was gettin’ born!”

“Any time I take a dame out, she knows what it is to be out. I satisfy.”

This is Peggy Joyce.

Anything else?

Early on, Bud and John are talking. Bud’s girl, Annie, is going to fix John up with a blind date, but John is reluctant – Annie doesn’t exactly have a promising track record in this area. Bud assures him that this latest date has class, but he admits, “I ain’t promisin’ you no Peggy Joyce.” Joyce was an actress and model who became known more for her personal exploits than her professional achievements – she was married six times (and, according to her, engaged more than 50), had affairs with such notables as Charlie Chaplin and Walter Chrysler, and was an extravagant spender who once proclaimed that “true love was a heavy diamond bracelet, preferably one that arrived with its price tag intact.” It’s reported that on her wedding night to husband number three, she locked herself in the hotel bathroom and refused to come out until he’d written her a check for $500,000! (There’s a book out on her, released in 2000 – called Gold Digger: The Outrageous Life and Times of Peggy Hopkins Joyce by Constance Rosenblum. It’s totally going on my Christmas list.)

Check out Two Seconds on TCM December 12th. You. Will. Not. Be. Sorry.

And don’t forget to visit Speakeasy to find out gem Kristina is recommending this month!

~ by shadowsandsatin on December 7, 2017.

10 Responses to “Pre-Code Crazy: Two Seconds (1932)”

  1. Vivienne Osborne plays strip poker with Guy Kibbee in The Dark Horse, and it is really a funny scene.

  2. That pic. of John and Shirley reminds me of Bette Davis saying that she had to close her eyes when she kissed EGR because she found him so homely. Poor guy.

  3. That shot really is chilling.

  4. Karen, your love of language and interesting characters always makes your reviews a pleasure to read.

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