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Film / Big City Blues

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Big City Blues (1932) is a pre-Code drama film directed by Mervyn LeRoy, starring Joan Blondell and Eric Linden.

Bud (Linden) is a naive Indiana boy heading to the big city (New York to be exact) after receiving an inheritance. He meets with his cousin Gibby who’s clearly using him for his money.

Gibby is in with the theatre crowd and brings along several showgirls including Vida (Blondell) who flutters Bud’s young heart.

At an apartment party, with booze abounding, a showgirl gets killed in an accident. Everyone escapes the party, leaving Bud holding the bag.

Scared he runs away and becomes a fugitive alongside the help of Vida, but his actions catch up to him and the big city shows its remorseless soul.

Humphrey Bogart has a small part as one of the guests at the fatal party. It was Bogart's first film at Warner Brothers, where he spent nearly a decade as a supporting player before breaking out as a star in 1941.

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This film shows the following tropes:

  • Accidental Murder: The showgirl, Jackie, is killed while in a drunken stupor. Her two paramours’ fight over her gets violent, and bottles are thrown. Said bottle hits Jackie, immediately killing her.
  • The Alcoholic:
    • Lenny (Lyle Talbot) who turns out to be the one who threw the bottle that killed Jackie.
    • Hummell the house detective keeps a hidden stash of liquor in a broom closet, and is drunk on duty when he finds Jackie's body.
  • Alcohol Hic: Gibby does this at the party, when everybody is downing a lot of alcohol paid for with Bud's money.
  • Big Applesauce: A hayseed from Indiana goes to New York, has one hell of an adventure in 24 hours, goes back home wiser, but vows to return.
    Station agent: What's that? You mean you'd like to go back to that place?
    Bud: Of course I would! And I'm goin'. It may not be right soon, but, I'll go back. I know I will. New York's alright. It was just me that was wrong. It's a place that sorta takes hold of you. Gets under your skin. Licked me this time. Licked me bad. But, next time, maybe, well, it might be different.
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  • Bookends: Starts with Bud boarding the train to go to New York, ends with Bud getting off the train at his hometown after returning from New York.
  • The Cameo: Dick Powell is the voice for Yum Yum Popcorn on the radio commercial.
  • Conscience Makes You Go Back: Everyone scrams when Jackie is killed at the party... but Vi, who's clearly taken a shine to Bud, goes back. Only by this time, Bud himself has run for it, and the house detective has wandered in and found the body.
  • Country Mouse / Naïve Newcomer: Bud, oh, Bud. Gibby is clearly a grifter, but he’s so enamoured with the big city that he doesn’t notice. It’s clear that he doesn’t know the dangers lurking around him.
  • Death Is Dramatic: A single blow to the head kills Jackie instantly.
  • Driven to Suicide: What clears Bud’s name is that the bumbling house detective finds Lenny in his closet (apparently he hung himself because he knew he threw the bottle that killed Jackie).
  • Extremely Short Timespan: When Bud gets back home at the end the station agent mentions that he was only gone for three days. Most of that was taken up by the train there and the train back; Bud's whole sojourn in New York was barely 24 hours.
  • Financial Abuse: Gibby asks Bud for several “loans”, and it’s very clear that he’s never going to pay them back.
  • Hope Spot: Although his time in the city was filled with pain, Bud clearly knows that he’ll be back again and make something of himself. Not now, but he will do it.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Hummell the house detective tells all the maids that after the trauma of finding Jackie's body, "I swore I'd never take another drink as long as I live." Immediately after the maids leave Hummell ducks into the broom closet where he keeps his liquor stash.
  • Long List: The station agent in Bud's hometown, when Bud, waiting for the train, tells him he doesn't know New York.
    Station agent: I was a telegraph operator and a process server; I was a part time lifeguard at Rockaway Beach; I worked on the BMT and drove a taxi. I was a rubber in the Turkish bath; had a job on the day shift in the hymn book factory, on the night shift in a Bowery flophouse. A job they handed me to let me work out my rent. I drew wages in a hash house and a Chink laundry and a pet shop. For a week I sorted stiffs in the morgue and for a month worked on a coal barge. I delivered gin for a drug store in Astoria and had my own ice business in the Bronx. I met tramps and bootleggers and bishops and reporters and gunmen and borough presidents and you, you come a-tellin’ me I didn’t get to know New York."
  • Maybe Ever After: As Bud is leaving, Vi tells him to send her a telegram when he gets back. When he gets back home he does, then he tells the station agent that he's going back to New York when he gets the chance.
  • Shout-Out: When Bud the moron meets Gibby in New York, he asks if Gibby knows Constance Bennett.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Absolutely every party member’s reaction when they find out Jackie has been killed.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: "CHORUS BEAUTY SLAIN!" might be a news story but probably not a big enough one to be on the front page with a headline in type big enough for a declaration of war.

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