One Night at Susie’s DVD Review: Makes a Hardened Man Humble

An early “all-talking” drama developed for audiences before the Hays Office sucked all the life out of the business, One Night at Susie’s not only gives us a grand glimpse at an infant Hollywood taking its first steps, but is one of the few films starring Billie Dove to have survived over the years. A highly adored actress of both the stage and the screen, Dove made several dozen movies in the Silent Era, retiring from the business shortly after the Sound Era came to be. Sadly, most of her legacy was erased from history by a studio fire, so whenever there’s a chance to check out one of her only surviving films intact, it’s something of a brass ring for pre-Code enthusiasts and vintage film lovers alike.

In the case of One Night at Susie’s, Ms. Dove stars as a chorus girl named Mary Martin, who catches the eye of a hopelessly romantic playwright named Dick (played by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.). Quite the naïve fellow all around, Dick was the orphaned son of a fallen gangster who was taken in by Susie (Helen Ward), the latter determined to ensure the bright, talented youth never follows in the footsteps of his father. Despite her front as the head of a charitable home for underprivileged youth, the tough-as-nails Susie serves as a common ground for New York City’s biggest gangsters. The opening scene of the aged lady sitting at a table with eight rough-looking thugs standing around her in a circle, to wit she commands them to put their rods on the table might conjure up a visual fit only for specialty adult videos in today’s age, but in this instance, it’s to show us all that Susie possesses all the power in town.

And yet, Susie is unable to protect her young protégé once that darned chorus girl defends herself from the unwanted, immoral advances (read: attempted rape) of a sleazy theater producer, which results in said sleazy theater producer receiving a timely, totally morally acceptable demise (read: self-defense). But it’s Dick that takes the fall for his beloved, and winds up in prison anyway. From there, Dick continues to write, insisting Mary take the credit for his work so that she can become a big star for the both of them (I’d like to see that happen today, where even the people who design a film’s end title crawls with Adobe Premiere Pro receive credit for it), something Susie sees as the rising starlet’s further manipulation of a poor young gullible lad.

Such is not the case, of course, but Susie doesn’t know that. Fortunately for all, it’s only a matter of time before Dick is released from stir, wherein we all learn that One Night at Susie’s makes a hardened Dick humble. James Crane co-stars as a nefarious slimeball with a leering eye towards Billie and a passion for blackmailing, Tully Marshall (the first man to take the Lord’s name in vain on Broadway, interestingly enough), and John Loder (as the first sleazy theater producer) receives prominent billing despite being bumped off early (appearing in only one really noticeable scene prior to that) in a film that ultimately isn’t an Oscar-worthy affair (or even terribly memorable, for that matter), but will probably deserve a viewing from the more avid old school film buffs amongst you.

The Warner Archive presents One Night at Susie’s in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio with its original mono English Vitaphone audio track. The quality for both the video and audio are fairly good considering their age, the period when the film was made, and the doomed history most of Ms. Dove’s movies have had. A trailer produced specifically for the movie featured Billie Dove and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. addressing the good people in the audience, but was apparently unavailable when this Manufactured on Demand title was produced, as this is a barebones title all the way.

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Luigi Bastardo

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