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Shot in April 1932, based on an unproduced play by Ward Morehouse called New York Town, and directed by Mervyn LeRoy, Big City Blues tells the tale of Bud, a small-town boy from Hooperstown, Indiana (played by Eric Linden) who takes an inheritance and goes to New York City. There he meets up with his cousin (veteran comic actor Walter Catlett) who decides to throw a party at Bud's expense. At the party, where bootleg liquor flows freely and two men, Sully (Lyle Talbot) and Adkins (an uncredited Humphrey Bogart, appearing in his ninth film) get into a fight, resulting in the death of a young woman (Josephine Dunn). As the party guests flee, Bud meets chorus girl Vida (Blondell) and the two escape the scene to drink and gamble. Later they are picked up by the police, then exonerated, and Bud returns to Indiana both broke and dreaming of Vida.
Surprisingly, the film was a semi-comedy, with most of the humor being provided by veteran actor Walter Catlett, whose performance garnered praise from the critics, such as Mordaunt Hall in The New York Times, who wrote that "Big City Blues, is in most respects an inviting film and the only pity is that Eric Linden's portrayal of a country bumpkin is far from convincing. Mr. Linden makes the young man, who is known as Bud Reeves, too silly to be at liberty alone. There is, however, little doubt that Gotham deserves the scolding it gets here, for there is an element of truth about the incidents. Walter Catlett plays a man named Gibboney, Reeves's New York cousin. This clever comedian runs away with the acting laurels. He has more to say and do than he has had in any other feature and he affords a great deal of amusement. It is a pleasure to witness the scenes in which Mr. Catlett appears and quite painful to observe Mr. Linden's impersonation."
Time Magazine found fault with the screenplay. "The story itself, about a country boy (Eric Linden) who comes to New York to set the town on fire and goes home with scorched fingers, might have been much better handled. Ward Morehouse, who wrote it, is a theatrical reporter who knows more about how theatrical people talk than he does about writing plays. His picture is really a "color story" rather than the melodrama which it sometimes attempts to be or the soft satiric comedy which it could have been. The slight romance between Linden and a kind-hearted chorus girl (Joan Blondell); his association with a gay and amazingly unresourceful confidence man (Walter Catlett); the bravado of his return to Willow Creek are incidents which a more astute playwright might have been able to develop without recourse to such familiar props of metropolitan melodrama as a slain chorus girl, a gimlet-eyed detective on the wrong track. Linden gulps so hard throughout Big City Blues that he succeeds in swallowing his part".
These reviews did nothing to help Eric Linden's career. He had come to Hollywood from the Broadway stage the year before, and at the age of 23 was put into juvenile roles. Soon he was appearing in mostly B pictures. His penultimate film was a bit role in Gone with the Wind (1939) in which he was memorable as a soldier whose leg is amputated.
If the critics were not pleased with Big City Blues, neither was Joan Blondell's father. According to Matthew Kennedy in his biography of Blondell, "She played Vida, a seasoned New York gold digger bemoaning the Depression. 'Chorus girls used to get pearls and diamonds,' she says wearily. 'Now all they expect is a corned beef sandwich.' With an older woman preying on a younger man and a quotation from the Sapphic novel The Well of Loneliness, Big City Blues was objectionable to many. At home, Joan patiently listened to the complaints of her increasingly cranky sixty-seven-year-old father, who voiced disapproval that his daughter was playing so many low women in movies like Big City Blues".
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay: Ward Morehouse, Lillie Hayward, based on the play New York Town
Cinematography: James Van Trees
Art Direction: Anton Grot
Music: Ray Heindorf, Bernhard Kaun
Film Editing: Ray Curtiss
Cast: Joan Blondell (Vida Fleet), Eric Linden (Bud Reeves), Jobyna Howland (Mrs. Serena Cartlich), Ned Sparks (Mr. 'Stacky' Stackhouse), Guy Kibbee (Hummell), Grant Mitchell (Station Agent), Humphrey Bogart (Shep Adkins).
by Lorraine LoBianco
The New York Times: Walter Catlett Affords Good Fun in Big City Blues, the New Film at the Winter Garden by Mordaunt Hall, September 10, 1932
Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes by Matthew Kennedy
Time Magazine: Cinema: The New Pictures September 19, 1932
The Internet Movie Database