(Photo from IMDb)
Flashing lights and marquees! Shots of booze, cigarettes, and legs, legs, legs! That's how we open Night World - the "Prohibition" (because who in that era actually cared about the booze laws?) and Depression-era picture starring Lew Ayres, Mae Clarke, and a not-too-scary Boris Karloff. The always-working actors, Clarence Muse and Louise Beavers (playing a powder room attendant) also make up the cast, and the dance routines are choreographed by none other than Busby Berkeley.
In 58-minutes, Night World rapidly intertwines the lives of Happy's Nightclub patrons and employees. First, we meet Tim (Clarence Muse), the doorman and Sage who's worried about his hospitalized wife (why she's in the hospital, we don't know). Then, one by one, we're introduced to the rest of the players who are supposed to be important, but the writing doesn't allow the audience opportunity to know exactly who these characters are and why they are. In return, we the audience would have to search far and wide for a damn to offer them for their plights...
Happy MacDonald (Karloff) is the image-upholding nightclub owner who seems suspicious of his shrew--I mean, wife, Jill (played by Dorothy Revier). Lew Ayres plays Michael Rand, a young man burdened by family scandal. Of course, like most of cinema's anti-heroes, Michael tries to escape his troubles with the sin juice. The second-billed Mae Clarke plays Ruth Taylor--a chorine with a heart of gold and a supporting character's storyline, unfortunately. And though he's credited low, Russell Hopton rounds out the main cast as Klauss, the cruel dance master--and Mrs. MacDonald's lover.
Now, don't misunderstand me! This movie's characters have interesting (albeit, formulaic) stories--but the surfaces are barely scratched! Yes, we get a confrontation here and there for plot's sake, but no understanding of why that person acts this way, or rather, has landed in their particular situations. But alas, the picture is just under an hour long--leaving no room to stray from clichés and occasional silliness. It is evident that Universal Pictures just wanted to release something to keep the lights on--and hey, if you were a producer of any product during the Great Depression, wouldn't you have done the same?
My verdict? Let's put this into perspective: Would I, a young Black woman in 1932, have spent my spare change to see this movie? Glitz, glam, and debauchery set to music? Possibly. But is Night World the best movie that Pre-Code Hollywood has to offer? Far from it.
Acting (Karloff, Muse, and Hopton standout)
Editing (Maurice Pivar, Ted J. Kent)
Music (Hal Grayson)
Overall Rating: 2.5/4 stars