Big City Blues (1932): Mervyn LeRoy’s Pre-Code Drama, Starring Joan Blondell, Eric Linden, and Humphrey Bogart (before he became star)

Mervyn LeRoy directed Big City Blues, a Pre-Code drama, starring Joan Blondell and Eric Linden, with early appearances by Humphrey Bogart and Lyle Talbot.

Big City Blues (1932).jpg

Theatrical poster
The tale is based on Ward Morehouse’s play, “New York Town.”

Original prints and copies of the picture are preserved in the collections of the Library of Congress, and the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

Bud Reeves (Eric Linden), a naive youngster in Indiana small town, inherits $1,100 from his aunt, which he plans to use when moving to New York to find a job and start a new life.

In New York, Bud rents a modest hotel room and soon meets his older, slick-talking cousin Gibby. Gibby fleeces Bud out of small amounts of his cash to buy things. He also introduces him to chorus girl Vida Fleet and her friend Faun, and Bud quickly falls for Vida.

Trouble starts when Gibby purchases a large amount of liquor and champagne from a local bootlegger and arranges a party in Bud’s room. In addition to Vida and Faun, others joining the party include Jackie Devoe and more chorus girls, as well as three men: Stacky, Shep, and Lenny.

After considerable drinking, Shep and a very drunk Lenny begin arguing about who will take the unconscious Jackie home. A fight ensues; furniture is overturned; and lamps are broken. As the lights go out, Shep and Lenny continue their brawl. Bottles are also being wildly thrown and used as weapons in the darkened room. When the lights come back on, the revelers discover that Jackie, lying on a couch, is dead, killed by a bottle hitting her head. Everyone except Bud hurriedly leaves the hotel room, even Vida.

House detective Hummel discovers Jackie’s body after seeing Vida, who has returned to get Bud. The young couple flee, but are arrested along with the other partiers. All are finally cleared of any charges when Hummel finds the real killer, Lenny, whose corpse is in the closet.

Evidence shows he committed the crime, and that due to guilt and remorse over Jackie’s death, he then hanged himself.

After tearful goodbye with Vida, Bud goes back to Indiana, to find his dog Duke waiting for him at the station.  However, a telegraph he sends indicates he intends to return to New York after saving enough money, presumably to marry Vida.

Joan Blondell as Vida Fleet
Eric Linden as Bud Reeves
Jobyna Howland as Serena Cartlich
Ned Sparks as “Stacky” Stackhouse
Guy Kibbee as Hummell, the house detective
Grant Mitchell as Station Agent
Walter Catlett as Cousin “Gibby” Gibboney
Inez Courtney as Faun
Thomas Jackson as Detective Quelkin

Uncredited Cast

Humphrey Bogart as Shep Adkins
Josephine Dunn as Jackie DeVoe
Evalyn Knapp as Jo-Jo
Lyle Talbot as Len ‘Lenny’ Sully
Sheila Terry as Lorna St. Clair
Gloria Shea as Agnes
Tom Dugan as Red
Betty Gillette as Mabel
Edward McWade as Baggage Master
Wallis Clark as Chief of Police
Selmer Jackson as Joe
Clarence Muse as Nightclub Singer
J. Carrol Naish as Bootlegger
Dick Powell as Radio Announcer (voice)


Directed by Mervyn LeRoy

Written by Lillie Hayward, based on the play New York Town
by Ward Morehouse

Cinematography: James Van Trees

Edited by Ray Curtiss

Music by Ray Heindorf, Bernhard Kaun

Distributed by Warner

Release date: September 10, 1932
Running time: 63 minutes