Beast of the City, The (1932): MGM’s Pre-Code Gangster Film, Starring Walter Huston and Jean Harlow

Charles Brabin directed The Beast of the City, a pre-Code gangster film about cops as vigilantes, featuring a viciously violent ending.

The Beast of the City

Promotional poster

The Beast of the City originated after President Herbert Hoover contacted MGM’s head, Louis B. Mayer, concerned that the public show greater respect for police officers and law-enforcement agencies.

Written by W.R. Burnett, Ben Hecht (uncredited), and John Lee Mahin, the film stars Walter Huston, Jean Harlow, Wallace Ford, Jean Hersholt, and Tully Marshall.

The tale opens with a cautionary statement: “Instead of the glorification of cowardly gangsters, we need the glorification of policemen who do their duty and give their lives in public protection. If the police had the vigilant, universal backing of public opinion in their communities, if they had the implacable support of the prosecuting authorities and the courts—I am convinced that our police would stamp out the excessive crime—which has disgraced some of our great cities”— President Herbert Hoover.”

Walter Huston plays tough Police Captain Jim Fitzpatrick, a dedicated family man and crime fighter, using violence to fight violence. Although he’s been demoted for political reasons, public outcry forces the mayor to be more aggressive against sleazy gang boss Sam Belmonte (Jean Hersholt). As a result, Fitzpatrick is promoted to police chief.

Meanwhile, younger brother Police Detective Ed Fitzpatrick (Wallace Ford) is seduced by a sexy Belmonte gang moll (Jean Harlow), who’s accustomed to expensive life style.

Frustrated for not being promote, he betrays Jim’s trust by conspiring with Belmonte’s henchmen in a hijacking that results in the deaths of a child and a police officer.

After a crooked lawyer is able to get those guilty off on all charges, the relentlessly determined Chief turns to vigilantism to rid the city of its “Beasts.”

Mayer, concerned about MGM’s image as home of family entertainment, ordered to exhibit it as bottom feature on double bills.

Jean Harlow, displaying her sexy body, would be rewarded with better roles, leading to major stardom.

Mickey Rooney, soon to become a bankable star, is uncredited as Captain Jim Fitzpatrick’s son, in his first MGM film.


Walter Huston as Captain Jim Fitzpatrick
Jean Harlow as Daisy Stevens/Mildred Beaumont
Wallace Ford as Detective Ed Fitzpatrick
Jean Hersholt as Samuel “Sam” Belmonte
Dorothy Peterson as Mary Fitzpatrick
Tully Marshall as Defense Attorney Michaels
John Miljan as District Attorney
Emmett Corrigan as Police Chief “Burt” Burton
Warner Richmond as Police Lieutenant Tom
J. Carrol Naish as Pietro Cholo
George Chandler as Reporter


Directed by Charles Brabin
Produced by Hunt Stromberg
Written by W.R. Burnett (story), John Lee Mahin, Ben Hecht (uncredited)
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Edited by Anne Bauchens

Production company and distribution: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: February 13, 1932

Running time: 86 minutes
Budget $230,000
Box office $408,000 (USA); $202,000 (International)