powered by AFI
Adventure in Manhattan (1936) is a breezy crime thriller that stars Joel McCrea as a renowned criminologist newspaper writer named George Melville who boasts of being able to predict crimes before they happen. Melville brings a touch of class to blue-collar crime solving, a blue-collar Sherlock with the English dick's famed arrogance and unflappable self-confidence in his mastery of the art of detection. (Melville may have been Columbia's possible answer to the amateur detective Nick Charles in MGM's successful The Thin Man series.) Through a prank conducted by his often-jealous colleagues, Melville meets actress Claire Peyton (Jean Arthur) and producer Blacktop Gregory (Reginald Owen). But Blacktop has more behind the stage curtains than meets the eye, and it's Melville sleuthing behind those curtains that makes the story fun to watch.
Since Jean Arthur was a contract player at the time, Adventure in Manhattan was her second of three pictures she made for Columbia in 1936. Also, it was the second of three pictures that Arthur and Joel McCrea appeared in together. The first was The Silver Horde (1930), the latter being The More the Merrier (1943). Thomas Mitchell appears in a supporting role as Melville's exceedingly cranky managing editor who seems to be on the verge of a massive coronary, a typical trait for newspapermen in the movies at the time. Mitchell would later work with Jean Arthur in two pictures, both released in 1939: Only Angels Have Wings and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And the classy Reginald Owen, whom Variety noted as "role-proof...as usual," rounds out the cast as the charming villain.
Adventure in Manhattan was based on a story by Joseph Krumgold, suggested by May Edginton's "Purple and Fine Linen." Sidney Buchman, Harry Sauber and Jack Kirkland were hired to shape the screenplay, and Edward Ludwig directed. Buchman, a contract writer for Columbia Studios since 1934, was one of Columbia chief Harry Cohn's favorite writers. It was here at Columbia that Buchman contributed some of the best work of his career, notably for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Talk of the Town (1942), both starring Jean Arthur.
Reviews of Adventure in Manhattan were mixed at the time. The New York Time critic Frank S. Nugent (later a Hollywood screenwriter) dismissed the film as "a lightweight and moderately diverting mystery tale which hurdles its absurdities with the greatest of ease and will be forgotten almost as soon as it fades from the screen." Time Magazine, referencing Columbia's recent success with the Academy Awards, noted that " Adventure in Manhattan, which is not the work of writer Robert Riskin and director Frank Capra, may conceivably prove to the producers of It Happened One Night (1934) that box-office success is not necessarily the reward of second-hand whimsy." But Variety admired the picture and hailed the climactic heist as "perhaps the most elaborate on record, and quite exciting."
Director: Edward Ludwig
Screenplay: Sidney Buchman, Jack Kirkland, Harry Sauber, Joseph Krumgold (story), May Edginton (novel).
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Film Editing: Otto Meyer
Music: William Grant Still
Cast: Jean Arthur (Claire Peyton), Joel McCrea (George Melville), Reginald Owen (Blacktop Gregory), Thomas Mitchell (Phil Bane), Victor Kilian (Mark Gibbs), John Gallaudet (McGuire).
by Scott McGee