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A snappy little comedy/romance/melodrama brought to life by Raoul Walsh's energetic direction and a screenplay brimming with slangy dialogue, Me and My Gal (1932) is also a great look at the acting team of Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett early in their careers. It's little remembered today that the pair displayed superb chemistry in four films overall -- two in the early 1930s and two more in the early 1950s.
In Me and My Gal, Tracy plays an Irish cop who pursues wisecracking lunch-counter cashier Bennett. (Sample dialogue: "Didn't I meet you somewhere?" "I've been somewhere.") Bennett's sister (Marion Burns), meanwhile, shelters her gangster ex-boyfriend (George Walsh, brother of Raoul), in the attic of her paralyzed father-in-law, who can only communicate by blinking in Morse code.
The film features lots of boisterous comedy ranging from slapstick and sharp dialogue to a sophisticated satire of an art movie of the time. In one scene, the script pokes fun at Strange Interlude (1932), an MGM film starring Clark Gable and Norma Shearer that was released the same year. In that film (as in the Eugene O'Neill play on which it was based), characters' thoughts are heard as voiceovers. In Me and My Gal, Tracy tells Bennett he just saw a film whose title he can't remember, though he thinks it might have been Strange Inner Tube -- and then his and Bennett's thoughts are heard on screen comically as they keep conversing. (For the record, the O'Neill play was also memorably lampooned by Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers .)
Me and My Gal was based on a story entitled Pier 13 and was filmed under that title in nineteen days. Overall it scored well with critics and audiences. The New York Times described it as "a racy combination of comedy and melodrama.... [It] has the advantage of Mr. Walsh's vigorous imagination and bright lines... Miss Bennett, even though she chews gum throughout most of the scenes, is very attractive and...gives a vivacious performance. Mr. Tracy is alert and efficient."
One negative review came from the trade paper Variety, which declared: "Aside from the weakness of the picture as entertainment, it has no natural box office elements. Virtually nothing to hang a campaign on and the names alone of Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett on a marquee will not mean much, if anything.... Fox has been trying for some time now to build up both Tracy and Miss Bennett at box office. They might get somewhere with better stories, but they'll have to top Me and My Gal a long distance before the names begin to take."
Of course, the primary attraction of the movie 80 years on is the very presence of Tracy and Bennett, along with director Raoul Walsh. Tracy in particular handles quite well both the comedic and dramatic aspects of the story, bringing his easygoing naturalism to the cop character, and lending him not just toughness and conceit but also sympathy and compassion. This was the only film on which Walsh would work with Tracy, though Walsh directed Joan Bennett in two other pictures -- Wild Girl (1932) and Big Brown Eyes (1936).
Tracy and Bennett, on the other hand, had already been paired on She Wanted a Millionaire (1932) and would team up again twenty years later for Father of the Bride (1950) and Father's Little Dividend (1951). The two stars had been acting in movies for about the same length of time; though Bennett started a bit earlier, their careers really got going in 1930.
In her memoir (written with Lois Kibbee), Bennett wrote that Me and My Gal was the only memorable film of the six she made in 1932. Of Spencer Tracy, she wrote: "Working with [him] was a huge treat. I remember him as a rather private person, taciturn, though he had a delicious sense of humor. He teased me unmercifully, and it always pleased him when I rose to the bait, which was most of the time. There was one thing that seemed contradictory to his rugged screen image: he dressed impeccably, sartorially splendid at all times.
"Spencer was known in Hollywood as an 'actor's actor,' and his intense powers of concentration were legendary. I never had the feeling that he was acting, but that the truth of the scene occurred at the very moment he spoke, and no matter how many times we repeated a scene, that spontaneity was always there. Like George Arliss, he was extremely meticulous in his work and methodical in his schedule. He took two hours for lunch and quit every day at five o'clock, and that was that. I worked with Spencer several times after that, and it was always stimulating and rewarding for me."
Bennett biographer Brian Kellow later wrote that the making of Me and My Gal "was pure pleasure for Joan. She was fascinated by Tracy's disdain for rehearsal. He always came to the set with his lines letter-perfect and saw no real reason to rehearse, fearing it would rob his performance of spontaneity... Me and My Gal marked the beginning of a distinct pattern that would run throughout Joan's career. Given a good director, such as Raoul Walsh, she responded with a fine performance. But if she was stuck with an indifferent script and a director who was no more than a traffic cop, her performance could be clumsy and inert.... But for much of the 1930s, Joan's lack of assertiveness meant that she was stuck playing bland ingnue parts."
Fox remade Me and My Gal in 1940 as Pier 13, starring Lloyd Nolan and Lynn Bari.
Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Philip Klein, Barry Conners (story); Arthur Kober; Frank Dolan, Philip Dunne, Charles Vidor, Alfred A. Cohn
Cinematography: Arthur Miller
Art Direction: Gordon Wiles
Film Editing: Jack Murray (uncredited)
Cast: Spencer Tracy (Danny Dolan), Joan Bennett (Helen Riley), Marion Burns (Kate Riley), George Walsh (Duke), J. Farrell MacDonald (Pop Riley), Noel Madison (Baby Face), Henry B. Walthall (Sarge), Bert Hanlon (Jake), Adrian Morris (Allen), George Chandler (Eddie Collins).
by Jeremy Arnold
Joan Bennett and Lois Kibbee, The Bennett Playbill
Brian Kellow, The Bennetts: An Acting Family
Marilyn Ann Moss, Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood's Legendary Director