Oct 9, 2015
On DVD: William Powell and a Land-Bound Esther Williams in The Hoodlum Saint (1946)
William Powell, Esther Williams and Angela Lansbury in a love triangle. Who thought up that one? I love all three of them, but I'd never put them together. It was this curious casting that led me to The Hoodlum Saint, now on DVD from Warner Archive.
Set in the years after World War I, Powell is Terry O'Neill, a veteran who returns home to find he has lost his job as a reporter. Barely missing a beat, he crashes a wedding, where with the help of socialite Kay Lorrison (Williams), he meets the right people and finds a job on another paper. Kay and Terry fall in love, but the socialite loses her beau when ambition leads him to work with an unsavory tycoon.
While Terry movies on to nightclub singer Dusty Millard (Lansbury), he never forgets Kay, much to the frustration of his chanteuse. He becomes wealthy, but not happy, and by discarding his old friends, he finds himself in more trouble.
The Hoodlum Saint is a pleasant enough experience, but it doesn't quite come together. There is never any real sense of peril. Problems are solved with relative ease, resulting in a lack of dramatic tension.
Part of the problem is a lack of unified tone. The movie starts like a comedy, and is even a little goofy , but then it makes an abrupt shift into drama. And it's not a very intense kind of drama; it just stops being lighthearted.
The leads aren't given much to work with, but they're enjoyable to watch. Powell is too old for his role, but once he starts talking in that familiar, jovial, cadence you start to feel at home. He's miscast, but not unwelcome.
While Williams could never have been a star if she'd stayed on land, she could act. That said, she's not particularly compelling here; I have to admit I made the mistake of thinking Carole Lombard would be good in her part as I watched those early comic scenes. Williams doesn't seem as happy in straight drama and that dims some of her charisma, though she is still an appealing presence.
Lansbury comes off best. I can't think of any time that she didn't. In these years she tended to play the gentle-hearted victim of love. Here she does get dumped, but rather than wilting away, she is dangerously icy in the way she'd be more often in later roles.
So about the curious casting? They're all fine together, but it never feels comfortable. I could never accept that these two women would get hot and bothered about Powell. He doesn't exude the power or sex appeal that would inspire that reaction.
Still, it all works fine if you accept the movie on its own terms. Start comparing to other comedies and dramas and you might start to get restless. For fans of its stars though, it's worth the watch.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.