Big Shakedown, The (1934): Dillon’s Pre-Code Crime Melodrama, Starring Charles Farrell and Bette Davis

John Francis Dillon directed The Big Shakedown, a Pre-Code crime drama starring Charles Farrell and Bette Davis.

The screenplay is based on the story “Cut Rate” by Niven Busch and Samuel G. Engel.

Jimmy Morrell (Charles Farrell) and Norma Nelson (Bette Davis) plan to wed as soon as their neighborhood pharmacy begins to show a profit.

Former bootlegger Dutch Barnes (Ricardo Cortez) offers Jimmy a job duplicating name brand toothpaste and cosmetics that can be made cheaply and then sold in the bottles and jars of reputable pharmaceutical companies at regular prices.

When Dutch asks him to copy the formula for a popular brand of antiseptic, Jimmy refuses, claiming he’s unable to get a key ingredient, but when Dutch offers him a bigger bonus he agrees.

Dutch’s ex-girlfriend Lily Duran (Glenda Farrell) jealous over his attentions to another woman, notifies the antiseptic company about the deception, and is murdered by Dutch.

Without key witness, the company is forced to drop their lawsuit against Jimmy. Now beholden to Dutch, he is forced to make fake digitalis drug. Norma is given some of the drug during childbirth, causing her to lose the baby.

Jimmy seeks vengeance against Dutch, but Sheffner, who formulated the antiseptic Jimmy manufactured, shoots Dutch. Jimmy confesses everything to the district attorney and is exonerated, allowing him and Norma to return to normal life.

Charles Farrell as Jimmy Morrell
Bette Davis as Norma Nelson
Ricardo Cortez as Dutch Barnes
Glenda Farrell as Lily Duran
Allen Jenkins as Lefty
Henry O’Neill as Sheffner
Dewey Robinson as Slim
John Wray as Higgins

Music by Leo F. Forbstein
Cinematography:Sidney Hickox
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date: January 6, 1934
Running time: 64 minutes