The Beast of the City (1932) Review

Director: Charles Brabin

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 86 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The Beast of the City is an underrated police drama that gets a big boost from an attention-grabbing tough guy performance from Walter Huston (as police detective Jim Fitzpatrick). He looks quite a bit like Liam Neeson here, and he plays one of the definitive man’s men of 1930s cinema. The plot of the picture is about Huston’s character’s frustrated attempts at taking down the crime empire of gangster Sam Belmonte (Jean Hersholt) and his dealings with his morally-wayward brother Ed Fitzpatrick (Wallace Ford), who’s also on the police force. Mickey Rooney shows up in an early role as Mickey Fitzpatrick, the Huston’s character’s son.

It’s a tough-talking and tough-acting film, with a main character who resembles a proto-Dirty Harry. It’s short, too, and benefits from the frequently zippy pacing. The Beast of the City was released during Hollywood’s Pre-Code era in the early 1930s (prior to the Production Code being enforced), so it occasionally has a more modern feel than the movies released during the time of the Code. Some of the cops here are willing to bend to law to catch the bad guys.

The characters in the flick are reasonably well-defined, but the individual movie-defining moment is probably the electric, take-no-prisoners finale. There are some bits of action prior to it, but most of the film’s bullets are saved for the ending. It’s a cathartic scene that manipulates the audience successfully. Crime-fighting rarely felt so satisfying.

The Beast of the City could be seen as a reaction to the gangster films that were popular at the time of its release. Here’s a picture for those who worried about the potentially corrupting influence of organized crime flicks on youth. It, too, is a mob movie, albeit one told from the perspective of law enforcement. If you ever come across it, give it a watch. It’s a good one.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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