House on 56th Street, The (1933) - full review!
Directed by Robert Florey, with screenplay by Austin Parker and Sheridan Gibney that was based on a story by Joseph Santley, this slightly above average pre-code drama stars Kay Francis, with Ricardo Cortez, Gene Raymond, John Halliday, Margaret Lindsay, and (briefly) Frank McHugh, among others. Francis plays follies girl Peggy Martin, who's romantically pursued by the (family) wealthy Monte Van Tyle (Raymond) even while she's being provided for as the mistress of Lyndon Fiske (Halliday). Both men attend her every show, Monte with his friend Chester Hunt (McHugh), who's interested in Peggy's blonde sextet co-worker Dolly (Sheila Terry). Eventually, the 'marrying kind' Monte proclaims his love for Peggy without ever inquiring about her past, her father had been a river-boat gambler that had been shot for cheating at cards; they marry in a civil ceremony because his mother (Nella Walker, whose character is introduced later) had disapproved. While they're on their 'around the world' honeymoon cruise, during which Monte learns a little about Peggy's gambling prowess and makes her promise never to gamble again, he has a big townhouse built for his wife on 56th Street; the year is 1905.
Some years later, Peggy has established herself (with her husband) as a regular in high society, a hostess of entertaining parties in their home. Monte's mother Eleanor comes to call when she learns of this and the fact of her granddaughter, who's been given the same name. Eleanor apologizes and accepts Peggy; grandmother then gets to take care of her namesake sometimes too. One day, when Peggy has come to retrieve her daughter at Eleanor's, her mother-in-law 'introduces' her to a family friend, Lyndon, who is thankfully discrete about his prior relationship with his former mistress. However, shortly thereafter, Lyndon learns from his doctor (Walter Walker) that he's dying, and begs Peggy to come and visit him while he convalesces, and before he dies, a fact he keeps from her. She refuses for a time but finally agrees to visit him shortly before he's planning to travel abroad. Lyndon confesses that the one mistake he'd made in his life was not marrying Peggy, that he'd been overconfident and overestimated his influence over her. He begins to force himself on her, begging her to go off to Europe with him. Peggy is naturally upset and gets up to leave, but Lyndon opens a desk drawer and pulls out a gun. She struggles with him trying to prevent him from committing suicide when the gun goes off and kills him anyway. Lyndon's butler rushes in to discover Peggy over his master's dead body, holding a gun. The facts of Peggy's past are printed in the newspapers and she's quickly convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
While in prison, Peggy learns that Monte, whom she'd asked to never visit her again, had been killed during World War I. In 1925, when she'd served her sentence, Peggy returns to a much changed, busier New York City, where she learns from Mrs. Van Tyle's lawyer (Henry O'Neill, uncredited) that she'd been left $5,000 on the condition that she never try to contact her daughter Eleanor. She agrees, goes to a beauty parlor for a complete make-over, and then gets on a cruise (e.g. to the casino's in Europe?). On-board the ship, Peggy 'Stone' is approached by slick Bill Blaine (Cortez); she's standoffish but she also accepts his invitation to have a drink later. Peggy is then warned by a member of the crew that Bill is a card-shark. Armed with that knowledge, Peggy is able to take Bill for everything he's worth in a card game. Later, however, she apologizes and accepts his offer to work together, business only, to fleece others across Europe. Eventually they return to New York where Bill offers Peggy a chance to join a friend of his, Mr. Bonelli (William Boyd), in a (new venture) speakeasy club with gambling upstairs; they think she'd be a sensation as a female dealer. Peggy is reluctant to join until she learns that her House on 56th Street is the location of the establishment.
On night while Peggy's dealing, a playboy named Freddy (Phillip Reed) who'd been losing money at her table convinces his married friend Eleanor Burgess, nee Van Tyle, to play even though she'd been warned by her husband never to gamble again. Apparently, reckless Eleanor had somehow inherited the gambling gene from her long absent mother, whom she'd been told was dead. Peggy, recognizing her daughter from a society photograph in the newspaper, allows Eleanor to win $1,000 before she refuses to deal anymore. Eleanor complains to the manager, Bill, who more or less orders her to get back the house's money. Peggy decides to teach Eleanor a lesson, hoping that she can cause her daughter never to gamble again. Eleanor loses $5,000 by 3 AM and then stretches it to $15,000 by dawn before Peggy, Bill, and Freddy force her to quit. Bill holds the IOUs and, aware of who she is, tells Eleanor to come back later in the day, perhaps they can work something out. Peggy then urges Bill to tear up the IOUs; he finally agrees to talk to Bonelli about it. Later, of course, the owner refuses and when Eleanor arrives, Bill pressures her to pay what she owes. He threatens to call her husband and when Bill begins to call, Eleanor notices a gun in the desk drawer; she then shoots and kills Bill. Peggy, who'd been on her way upstairs, hears the shot, assesses the situation, tells Eleanor to wait outside the office, and then cleans up the crime scene, wiping away fingerprints and taking the IOUs from Bill's coat pocket.
Conveniently, Eleanor had been planning on going away with her husband on a (you guessed it) cruise that night at midnight. So, Peggy gives Eleanor the IOUs and tells her to make the ship. After her daughter has left, Peggy locks the office door and then watches the clock that evening while working her table at the club. Bonelli comes upstairs to deposit some money in the safe and discovers Bill's body; since Peggy had tried to prevent him from entering the office, and had followed him in, Bonelli knows she's involved but she denies that Mrs. Burgess (e.g. Eleanor, who gets away with murder!) had anything to do with it. With that knowledge, Bonelli, who says he could have his boys take care of the body, effectively blackmails Peggy into accepting a permanent position in his employ at the club, in the house where she'd once promised her husband Monte that she'd never leave.