William Powell was one of the top box office draws of the 1930's. The suave sophistication, debonair charm, and cynical humor that Powell projected made him a top favorite of the movie-going public for two decades in films such as The Great Ziegfeld
(1936) and My Man Godfrey
(1936). Audiences especially adored Powell when he co-starred with Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man
series. But by the late 1930's, illness marred Powell's career, and in the next decade the urbane sophistication that Powell exemplified so well was no longer in fashion. Audiences now seemed to prefer their heroes a little darker, a bit more cynical and much shadier, as evidenced by the new anti-heroes that were popping up in film noirs such as Murder, My Sweet
(1944) and Out of the Past
(1947). Still, those audiences had a hard time buying Powell as anything other than a classy, impeccably dressed gentleman. As a consequence, The Hoodlum Saint
(1946), directed by Norman Taurog from a script by Frank Wead, was not popular with moviegoers of its era. Audiences were expecting Nick Charles instead of the out-and-out huckster that Powell portrayed. Powell did have plenty of experience playing oily characters early on in his career. He often appeared in silent pictures as a smooth, cunning villain. In fact, Powell made his film debut playing a henchman in cahoots with the nefarious Dr. Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes
(1922) featuring silent screen idol John Barrymore. But after his turn in the Philo Vance and Nick Charles films, the audience's preference for Powell's screen persona was set in stone.
The screenwriter of The Hoodlum Saint
, Frank "Spig" Wead, was considered a national hero. Having become a decorated flying ace in WWI, Wead later became a good friend, collaborator and inspiration to director John Ford, writing scripts for Ford's Air Mail
(1932) and They Were Expendable
(1945), as well as numerous other screenplays. He turned to the craft of writing after an accident crippled him for life. After the 1946 release of The Hoodlum Saint
, Wead completed two more films before he passed away in 1947. Ford released a biographical film ten years later based on Wead's life called The Wings of Eagles
, starring John Wayne as the Naval flying hero.
Director: Norman Taurog
Producer: Cliff Reid
Screenplay: James Hill, Frank Wead
Cinematography: Ray June
Editor: Ferris Webster
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Harry McAfee
Music: Nathaniel Shilkret
Cast: William Powell (Terry Ellerton O'Neill), Esther Williams (Kay Lorrison), Angela Lansbury (Dusty Millard), James Gleason (Snarp), Lewis Stone (Father Nolan).
BW-93m. Closed captioning.
by Scott McGee
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