Me and My Gal DVD Review: A Pre-Code Delight from Raoul Walsh

Oh boy, it’s another mixed blessing from the burn-on-demand department, that simultaneous lifter and dasher of cinephile hopes and dreams. I suppose we should be glad Raoul Walsh’s delightful little pre-Code cracker Me and My Gal has finally received a DVD(-R) release courtesy of the folks at Fox Cinema Archives, but you can go ahead and add this to the pile of films that deserve a whole lot better than a burned disc and a middling, dusty old transfer.

The ever-versatile Walsh would go on to make some of the most accomplished gangster films ever in The Roaring Twenties and White Heat, but the gangland milieu of Me and My Gal exists mostly as backdrop for the screwball antics of Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett, both engaged in a constant game of rakish charm one-upmanship. Walsh masterfully manages the escalation, structuring the film more around its central relationship than the plot elements swirling around Tracy and Bennett’s whirlwind courtship.

Tracy’s Danny Dolan is an up-and-coming New York cop who quickly vaults up to detective thanks to a quick-thinking save of a drowning drunk. From the get-go, Walsh establishes a willingness to indulge in all sorts of gags, from the broad physical comedy of the incorrigible dock drunk to the knives-out wit that seems to exist between nearly every set of characters. Dolan finds his match in Bennett’s Helen Riley, a cashier at the dockside café who displays the same kind of casual flippancy toward her job as he does, and their back-and-forth repartee hums with sexual tension and genuine affection.

Dolan doesn’t waste too much time in letting his feelings for Helen be known, but that pesky police work still has to be attended to, and when the past of Helen’s sister Kate (Marion Burns) catches up to her, two worlds collide. A former gangster’s moll, Kate has been trying to walk the straight-and-narrow since ex Duke Castenega (George Walsh) went to prison, but a jailbreak brings him back into her life.

Walsh plays the gangster stuff pretty straight, but it’s clearly not his main concern. The result is Me and My Gal is pretty much all comedy, and the snappy pace and undeniable lead chemistry make it a great one. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Fox’s 1.33:1 transfer, which has undergone no cleanup and is littered with damage — scratches, dirt, and large vertical tramlines. Image detail is fine and the film is never less than watchable, but one wishes for better. The disc features no extras.

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Dusty Somers

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