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Night Waitress

Night Waitress(1936)

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teaser Night Waitress (1936)

An hour-long programmer from RKO, Night Waitress (1936) stars English actress Margot Grahame as a San Francisco waterfront waitress trying to rebuild her life after serving a prison term for her inadvertent connection to a bonds theft. But she once again gets into trouble when she gets involved with a customer at the cafe, and the two become targets of gangsters. The cast includes an undistinguished roster of familiar B-movie faces such as Gordon Jones and Donald Barry, plus an unbilled bit by Anthony Quinn, in his third movie role.

Quinn's acting career began as more or less an accident in what had already been a colorful and flamboyant life. The Mexican-born Quinn had an itinerant childhood and youth, which included stints as a migrant worker, butcher in a slaughterhouse, teenage preacher with evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson and sparring partner for boxer Primo Carnera. In his teens, Quinn worked as a janitor at a drama school, and the teacher gave him speech lessons to help correct a speech impediment. He soon joined an acting company, and in 1936 was cast by Mae West in a play she was producing. Prolific B-movie director Lew Landers saw the play, and gave Quinn a bit part in his Universal film Parole (1936). Quinn had no dialogue - he played a prisoner who is stabbed to death by another prisoner - but he made an impression. He played another gangster in Sworn Enemy (1936) at MGM, but without billing and barely visible as a background character.

That same year, Landers was directing Night Waitress at RKO, and once again cast Quinn in an unbilled role as a gangster. In his few scenes, Quinn is wonderfully vicious as the brutal hoodlum who menaces Grahame (less than credible as a poshly-accented waitress). The South African-born blonde Grahame was Britain's answer to Jean Harlow in the early 1930s, and was dubbed the "Aluminum Blonde." But her Hollywood career never really took off and she played supporting roles in American and British films through the 1950s. Her best role was as the prostitute girlfriend in John Ford's The Informer (1935). Gordon Jones, a former UCLA halfback who played Grahame's love interest in Night Waitress, never made it as a leading man, either. But he did have a long career as a character actor, and had some success as the star of Universal's The Green Hornet serial (1940). Donald Barry, who played Rigo, the gangsters' target, would also find minor fame in a 1940s western serial, The Adventures of Red Ryder.

Anthony Quinn, of course, would go to a spectacular movie career, but it would take a while. After appearing in Night Waitress, Quinn and a friend hopped a freight train and went adventuring in Texas and Mexico. When he returned to Los Angeles, Quinn heard that director Cecil B. DeMille was looking for "authentic Indians" for his new film The Plainsman (1936). Quinn managed to pass himself off as a Cheyenne, and bluffed his way into an audition. He got the job, and the girl; he met and married DeMille's daughter, Katherine. From then on, Quinn worked steadily, playing a variety of ethnic types, until the 1950s, when he finally got the roles and recognition his talent deserved.

Director: Lew Landers
Associate Producer: Joseph Henry Steele
Screenplay: Marcus Goodrich, from a story by Golda Draper
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Editor: Desmond Marquette
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Principal Cast: Margot Grahame (Helen Roberts), Gordon Jones (Martin Rhodes), Vinton Haworth (Skinner), Marc Lawrence (Dorn), Billy Gilbert (Torre), Donald Barry (Mario Rigo), Anthony Quinn (gangster, unbilled).

by Margarita Landazuri

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