3 stars out of 4.
Someone obviously came up with the idea to re-team Robinson and Cagney after their huge successes with Little Caesar and The Public Enemyrespectively the previous year. This is exactly what Smart Money is, another gangster picture culled from “ripped from the headlines” news stories where the lead character will be a fictionalized variant based on several real life notorious crime figures.
This became Warner’s bread and butter release during the worst years of the Depression and still pack quite a punch these days, particularly these earlier films that arrived before the Code implementation. These Pre-Code gangster releases are grittier and darker, and today are finally seen again uncut. If they were reissued or put on tape any earlier it was always in a truncated Code enforced edit.
All this aside, Smart Money is an inferior picture that skirts by on the charm of its stars and the PreCode elements. Otherwise it’s all very standardized and drags despite its short runtime. Robinson is given the lead, with Cagney playing a supporting role. He naturally steals all his scenes and it only when both are present onscreen that the picture really lights up. Of particular note is a small bit part for pre-fame Boris Karloff as some sort of pimp and a scene where Cagney pantomimes the err…accentuations of a certain lady that Robinson will find of certain interest.
It’s thankfully short, but many narrative contrivances cannot be overlooked, especially the apparent bloodthirstiness of the police and the sudden ending designed to punish evildoers.
Not a bad way to spend a little bit of time though. An hour and twenty minutes of pure American cinema pairing two of the great stars. Found in WB’s phenomenal Gangsters Volume 3 DVD set which can be had for NOTHING online. Highly recommended.
The transfer is astonishing for those used to grimy tape and laser releases. The film is uncut 1.33:1 in a clean typical WB transfer with a healthy grain field. The sound is clear and undistorted mono. There is a commentary and full WB night at the Movies feature on all these from the Gangster sets. Maybe someday the studio will get its act together and do one big set of all their classic Gangster pictures.