Filmsite Movie Review
Night After Night (1932)
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Background

Night After Night (1932) is known for its debut of the inimitable, wise-cracking Mae West in her first talking film (in a supporting role).

The film's screenplay was adapted from Louis Bromfield's Cosmopolitan magazine story, "Single Night." The film was originally titled "Number 55."

The Story

Ex-boxer and prohibition tough guy Joe Anton (George Raft) runs a New York speakeasy and gambling casino at "Number 55."

(Under the opening credits, a "For Sale" sign turns to a public auction "Sold" sign at the site of his club, originally a large New York mansion at # 55.)

While taking a bath, Joe considers selling his nightclub, talking it over with henchman Leo (Roscoe Karns): "I can't stand it no more. I'm sick of the smell of booze. I'm sick of noise. I'm sick of being a pal to a lot of drunks. I'm not getting any place." He has also grown tired of girlfriend moll Iris Dawn (Wynne Gibson). His ambition is to make it big in high society.

Speakeasy rival mobster Frankie Guard (Bradley Page) meets with Joe and proposes to buy him out for "fifty grand" - to end the competition. Joe realizes he is being squeezed and counter-offers with "two fifty," refusing to sell for less. Frankie threatens that he will soon be visited and asks what kind of flowers (for his funeral) he prefers. Joe responds: "Oh, anything at all except pansies." Frankie promises that his last wish will be fulfilled.

Joe hires a very proper speech coach Mrs. Mabel Jellyman (Alison Skipworth) to help improve his rough speech patterns and his knowledge of acceptable subjects of conversation. Knowing that he lacks general knowledge and education, he is given lessons on how to speak and on important topics to discuss with guests.

During an evening's entertainment at the club, Anton is once again attracted to a Park Avenue beauty, a lady who has been sitting alone at a table for three nights in a row. Anton interferes when a drunk bothers her and becomes acquainted with her. She calls him "gallant" and "gracious" for offering money and for keeping drunks away from her. He learns she is Miss Jerry Healy (Constance Cummings) from a Depression-stricken once-wealthy family. Her family's mansion used to occupy the site of his club: "It might interest you to know why I come here...I used to live here...I was born here." Joe promises to take her on a tour of the house some time. Her fiancee, rich playboy Dick Bolton (Louis Calhern) discovers her at the table, and they discuss how she has second thoughts about marrying him.

When Joe returns to show her more attention, take care of her tab and escort her to a taxi, Iris is upset with his interest in the Park Avenue gal and tells Leo: "I'm not gonna lose nothin' either. He's mine and no gal from Park Avenue can come in and take him away from me...Polite! That's what I don't like about it. A mug trying to be a gentleman....What's got into him Leo? He ain't the same guy anymore." Leo answers: "I don't know. He just wants to injure himself I guess."

At the taxi door, Joe invites Miss Healy to a private, quiet dinner at his club the next night. She is enthralled by his interest in her: "You lead a happy life, don't you?...The Pirate of today...Happy days...You have something you must never lose...something different. I don't know exactly what it is, well - exciting, or is it my imagination?" She accepts his invitation.

Anton makes elaborate plans to put on an intimate dinner party at the club with his speech coach serving as host and chaperone. He coaches Mrs. Jellyman about impressing Miss Healy: "I gotta make a hit with her. I got to impress her. I got to. And you gotta help me...I want us to talk about things that will make her think that I'm a big-leaguer." Mrs. Jellyman is excited about dining in a speakeasy.

His ex-girlfriend, uncouth Maudie Triplett (Mae West) makes a memorable first entrance on the screen, with what may be considered the single greatest opening bit in any film actress's career. She is surrounded by men outside Anton's nightclub. She waits to be let in as the doorman Patsy (Dink Templeton) looks through the peephole and asks: "Who is it?" She replies impatiently: "The fairy princess, ya mug!"

Maudie walks into Anton's nightclub, well-dressed and covered with jewels. The wide-eyed cloakroom hat-check girl, overwhelmed by her, admires her diamonds:

Hatcheck girl: Goodness, what beautiful diamonds.
Maudie: Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.

She then swaggers to the upstairs where Anton is having his private dinner with Miss Healy and Mrs. Jellyman. She greets him loudly: "Joey. Joey. Well, well. Come here and kiss me, ya dog. Let's take a look at ya...Who's the dames?" She is introduced to the two ladies and then is asked by Miss Healy: "What's your name?" Maudie responds: "Maudie Triplett. One of the bluebloods from Kentucky. And if you don't like the color, honey, we'll change it."

Maudie orders a chair from one of the waiters and satirically jokes: "Service here is terrific." Maudie plays havoc with the proper arrangements at the dinner, upsetting Mrs. Jellyman in particular. Maudie's rapid-fire dialogue includes:

- "I could go for some of that stuff in the bottle."

- "Remember the night we're all at the eatin' house when a flock of them gangsters came in and tried to take me from ya. Well, you should have seen this kid fight for me that night." - "Honey, remember our last bout with champagne? Why say. We got so plastered why they threw us out in the gutter. And it took five waiters to do it. Yes, and not only that, it took five cops to land us in jail."

- (And pulling him toward her for a kiss) "Oh Joe, it's just life to see ya. Come here, crawl to me baby. Crawl to me."

Later on in the evening, to get away from a tipsy Mrs. Jellyman and a bawdy and boozing Maudie, Joe excuses himself with Miss Healy to go on a house tour. Remaining at the table, Mrs. Jellyman asks:

Mrs. Jellyman: Do you believe in love at first sight?
Maudie: I dunno, but it saves an awful lot of time.

Maudie remembers what Joe was like in the past: "When I first met him, he was a third-rate part. But I always said he had the makings, Mabel." Maudie offers her more to drink: "Your glass is empty! Now listen Mabel, if you're gonna be Broadway, you gotta learn to take it. And you may as well break in the act right now." Mabel asks: "Maudie? Do you really think I could get rid of my inhibitions?" Maudie replies: "Why sure! I got an old trunk you can put 'em in."

During the house tour, Miss Healy remembers things from her family's past. When Joe is called away to do business with Frankie Guard, Leo advises him that he shouldn't set his sights on high society: "Don't sell the place...I know what you're aimin' at kid, but you ain't gonna make it. Stay on your own side of the fence." Joe is offended: "How do you know what my side of the fence is?"

Frankie offers Joe "two hundred" grand for the nightclub in a surprising turn-around. Joe quickly agrees. In the meantime, his jealous girlfriend warns Miss Healy: "When I say I'm warnin' you, Miss Park Avenue, that means I'm warnin' ya!" Joe orders Leo to escort Iris out of the club. As she is taken down the stairs, she pleads to be freed: "That's what you get for lovin' a guy. The air...Ah, don't throw me out Leo...Look, if I promise ya I won't make no trouble, just let me stay near him. He won't know I'm here...I swear I won't do nothin'...I'll go crazy here...I swear I won't do nothin'...I'll go crazy out there on the street. Please." Leo is persuaded to let her go.

A vengeful Iris confronts Joe in the bedroom with Miss Healy during the continuation of their house tour. She draws a gun on him: "Nobody turns me down. Nobody. Get over there Miss Park Avenue. Come on down Joe..." Joe distracts and overpowers her, forcing the gun to shoot wildly. Miss Healy witnesses the struggle. After Iris is led away, Joe apologizes: "I'm awfully sorry that this had to happen." But Miss Healy is visibly excited: "I'm not. I loved it, Pirate," and she assertively kisses him before leaving for the evening.

Joe suffers from insomnia that night, amazed: "She kissed me...She must love me." Leo bets him $10 that he'll never see her again, thinking that he's gone love-crazy. The "afternoon" after, Mabel suffers from a severe hangover, moaning the reason for her headache: "the price of pleasure." Maudie offers her a drink to get her back on her feet. Mabel suddenly realizes that she has missed teaching her morning class, but Maudie suggests another possibility: "Why dearie, you're wasting your time. Why, a gal with your poise and class, why you'd make thousands in my business...it's one of the best paying rackets in the world." Mabel rationalizes the worth of her dubious profession, suspecting that she is a prostitute:

I recognize that your business has been a great factor in the building of civilization. And of course, it has protected our good women and thereby preserved the sanctity of the home. And there were such woman as Cleopatra...But me dear, don't ya think I'm just a little old?"

Maudie questions her assumption: "Say, what kind of a business do you think I'm in?...Say listen dearie, you got me all wrong. I've got a chain of beauty parlors." Maudie offers her $100/week to be a distinguished-looking hostess in her new New York establishment.

When Miss Healy doesn't get in touch with him, Joe orders Leo to locate her, even if it means calling all 1,700 Healys in the phone book. Joe rushes to her apartment when she is located. She is surprised to see him. After he notices two photographs of Dick Bolton in her bedroom, he decides to kiss her without warning. She is taken back: "Well, it's rather sudden...isn't it?" Joe has misinterpreted events from the previous night - she kissed him only because of the thrill of everything, not because of love. Joe reveals: "I thought that you might be in love with me see?...And believe it or not, I came over to ask you to marry me." She is sorry for the misunderstanding. Joe refers to her pirate analogy: "Well anyway, it didn't mean nothin'. Yeah, the pirates of the day are pretty dumb. So long...No hard feelings, and you'll drop into 55 again, maybe."

Miss Healy announces that visits might not be possible because she is soon going abroad with Dick Bolton, and they're going to be married, even though she is not in love. Joe asks: "Don't tell me you're marryin' him for his dough?" Joe congratulates her, and then demeans her upper-class character before he is ordered out:

I had an idea that up in this part of the world there was something worth the getting, and I went after it. But I see now, it was just my imagination...You're just another dame with a skirt on, and there's no difference between you and Iris except the way you manicure your nails...I've got nothing but contempt for you...You're just nothing to me, just nothing at all. And if I was a pirate and I had you on my ship, I wouldn't toss you to the crew.

Joe changes his mind about selling his speakeasy, and breaks the news to Frankie Guard, who threatens more trouble. Leo realizes that Joe has returned to his own turf: "That'a boy. Back in your own backyard, huh?" Joe also cancels his lessons with Mrs. Jellyman: "No more gentleman stuff for me." Maudie emphatically concurs: "What's the sense of tryin' to be somethin' that you're not. This guy was alright in the first place. You only thought you were wrong, didn't ya kid. Come on, snap out of it, ya dog!"

Miss Healy storms into the club to confront Joe. "No man can say the things he said to me and get away with it!" she tells Leo. In his bedroom, she smashes most of the framed pictures on the walls. Hearing the loud crashing, Joe finds her there, while at the front of the club, Frankie and a mob of gangsters arrive. Miss Healy expresses her anger at him and herself: "Well, you were right, weren't you?...You said I was a lot of things...you don't know how right you were. There's nobody as bad as I am, nobody. So you wouldn't throw me to the crew, huh? You said I was like Iris and I'm here to prove it." Joe understands what is behind her feelings: "It proves that you are a lady and a little stuck on me at that." He forcibly pulls her toward him and kisses her repeatedly, as she struggles and then goes limp in his arms.

Downstairs, loud gunshots signal Frankie Guard's raid. Joe and a gang of his men grab guns from the closet rack to defend themselves. She begs him not to go and confesses how much he means to her in a last-minute turnabout:

You can't go down there. I love you. I didn't know it but I do now...You were right. That's why I came back. Oh, I do love you.

Joe is informed that Frankie's gang is wrecking everything. He responds: "Tell 'em to stop. They're only wrecking their own joynt." Then he passionately kisses Miss Healy as Maudie and Mabel appear to witness what has just happened. Mabel corrects Joe's use of the word "joynt," and wise-cracking Maudie delivers the film's final fade-out line: "Come on, Mabel. Get out those books. Looks like it's gonna take more lessons."