Playing Around (1930): LeRoy’s Pre-Code Melodrama with Music, Starring Alice White and Chester Morris

TCM showed this movie on September 14, 2020.

Mervyn LeRoy directed Playing Around, a Pre-Code drama with songs, starring Alice White, Chester Morris and William Bakewell, adapted from the short story “Sheba” by Viña Delmar.

Grade: B- (*** out of *****)

Playing Around
Playing Around 1930 Poster.jpg

The film was produced and distributed by First National Pictures, a subsidiary of Warner.

Alice White plays a working class girl who dreams about having a better life of luxury. Her father, Pa Miller (Richard Carlyle), runs a cigar store while White works as a stenographer.

Soda jerker Jack (William Bakewell), madly in love with Sheba, has asked Pa for his consent to their marriage. Although Pa  likes Jack and would like to see her daughter married, she refuses due to his poor standing.

Sheba convinces Jack to take her to a fancy exclusive nightclub, where he is shocked at the prices and wants to leave.

The couple argue and as they are about to leave, a leg contest persuades Sheba to enter. She wins first place and is awarded her prize by gangster Nickey (Chester Morris). Dazzled by his fancy clothes and car, the smitten Sheba naively thinks that he intends to marry her.

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Low on cash, Nickey robs cigar store and unwittingly shoots the man behind the counter, who’s Sheba’s father. About to leave on their trip, they stop at her father’s cigar store to bid farewell. Seeing the police there, Nickey realizes what he has done.

He then lies to Sheba that her father is ok, while the old man is actually at the hospital suffering from a gunshot wound. Nickey convinces Sheba to continue their trip and they drive to the train station. However, suspicious that Nickey was behind the robbery, Jack asks the police to entrap Morris.

They manage to get Nickey to confess to the crime before he can board the train, and he’s arrested.

In the happy ending, Pa recovers, and chastened by the experience, Sheba agrees to marry Bakewell.

Alice White as Sheba Miller
Chester Morris as Nickey Solomon
William Bakewell as Jack
Richard Carlyle as Pa Miller
Marion Byron as Maude
Maurice Black as Joe
Lionel Belmore as Morgan
Shep Camp as Master of Ceremonies
Ann Brody as Mrs. Fennerbeck
George ‘Gabby’ Hayes as Western Union Clerk

“You Learn About Love Every Day” (Theme Song; Sung by Alice White and tenor.)
“You’re My Captain Kidd”
“That’s the Lowdown on the Lowdown”
“Playing Around”


Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Produced by Warner Bros.
Written by Harvey F. Thew, Adele Comandini, Frances Nordstrom, based on the short story Sheba by by Viña Delmar
Music by Earl Sitar and Leo F. Forbstein
Cinematography Sol Polito

Production company: First National Pictures

Distributed by First National Pictures

Release date: January 19, 1930

Running time: 66 minutes