Sworn Enemy (1936)
Directed by Edwin L. Marin this crime drama doesn’t quite work because the writers (Wells Root wrote the screenplay for this Richard Wormser story) and the director couldn’t decide whether it should be played straight or not. Whereas a number of B pictures some also starring Robert Young are notable for their effective mix of comedy within a more serious story this one fails. The comedic elements which include Nat Pendleton’s dim-witted pugilist and Florence Rice’s instant gangster moll act don’t ring true. Plus having Joseph Calleia’s character as a cripple seems to be a lazy rather than a necessary plot device. There is one humorous scene worth seeing and of course it involves Pendleton – when gangster Hinkle (Robert Gleckler) sends his four tough guys (Anthony Quinn uncredited is one of them) in to teach the losing boxer a lesson. While I could recommend at least a half a dozen Robert Young B pictures this isn’t one of them.
Down on his luck Hank Sherman (Young) finds a job unloading fruit in a warehouse when he learns he must forfeit a portion of his pay for “protection”. Refusing to yield it he suffers a beating by two gangsters before the business’s owner Mr. Decker (Samuel Hinds) rescues him. Decker then hires Hank to replace his coward chauffeur and Hank gets to know his new boss’s pretty secretary Peg Gattle (Rice). Through Mr. Decker’s influence Peg’s father Doctor Gattle (Lewis Stone) receives a pardon for a crime for which he claims he was framed. However Dr. Gattle did spend 12 years behind bars gathering information against the corrupt kingpin of the city’s protection rackets Joe Emerald (Calleia though he doesn’t appear until the latter half of the film). Intent on eliminating these parasites that bleed his businesses and their employees Decker launches a campaign with Dr. Gattle to clear them out.
Hank’s brother Steve (Leslie Fenton) manages a dimwit boxer named ‘Steamer’ Krupp (Pendleton). A childhood friend of the Sherman brothers ‘Dutch’ McTurck (Edward Pawley) tries to convince both of them to join the protection racket saying that their leader likes to manage fighters. Both decline his offer. Then Decker and Steve who was trying to convince Hank’s boss to get his boxer a Madison Garden fight date are killed when a tractor shovel is dropped on the back of the limo. Young’s character then secretly becomes the titled “sworn (by the DA played by Harvey Stephens) enemy” and he joins Dutch’s team. That doesn’t last long however because during the first job they’re on Hank kills Dutch to keep him from doing the same to a police officer.
No longer in the gang and shot for his troubles Hank decides to promote Steamer as his fighter in order to attract Emerald’s attention. Here the characterization breaks down as Young’s Hank suddenly becomes a cool customer. In fact shortly after the scene in which Hank is forced to sell Steamer’s contract and his boxer loses a fight (which is followed by the aforementioned scene) Pendleton’s character changes unbelievably as well. This is then followed by Rice’s Peg being thrust back into the picture for her character to undergo a still more incredible transformation to discover the location of Emerald’s safe where conveniently all his illegal books & money stash are kept.
*** SPOILERS ***
In any case Steamer’s big fight is rained out on the night that Dr. Gattle a safecracker named Simmons (Cy Kendall) along with Peg in lieu of the police (!) infiltrate Emerald’s apartment to get the goods so that Hank and later Steamer himself can save the day. All the gangsters are captured or killed and naturally the film ends with Hank and Peg kissing as the safe door closes.