Me and My Gal (1932)
March 12, 2023 12:07 AM - Subscribe

Young New York cop Dan falls in love with waterfront waitress Helen. Helen's sister Kate falls for gangster Duke. Dan must do in Duke.

Snappy dialogue, Raoul Walsh’s dynamic direction, and spirited performances from Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett make this offbeat comic treat one of the small glories of the pre-Code era. New York City cop Danny Dolan (Tracy) patrols the waterfront while falling in love with wisecracking waitress Helen Riley (Joan Bennett). Things get complicated when Danny’s investigation into a small-time gangster threatens to ensnare Helen’s sister—can he manage to both bring in his man and win over his girl?

Armond White: Raoul Walsh's 1932 Me and My Gal (screening July 26 as part of Film Forum's Essential Pre-Code series) should be better-known, since it is one of those movies as authentically, recognizably American as the Declaration of Independence. New York beat cop Danny Dolan—among the characterizations that proved Spencer Tracy the signal American movie actor until Brando—represents authority while thumbing his nose at it. He's a truly democratic hero—one of the people—who susses the bluff of street folk. This enables him to both look at petty crooks with a dare ("I'm about to hide my foot…") and fall in love with a gum-smacking waterfront diner cashier (Joan Bennett).

R. Emmet Sweeney: It is this “breaking out” that makes Gal so remarkable, a mash-up of styles and attitudes that never condescends to its material but wrings every possible variation out of it. The plot follows Spencer Tracy’s police officer, Danny Dolan, on the beat at New York’s Pier 13, as he woos waitress Helen Riley (Joan Bennett) while searching for escaped mobster Duke Castenega (George Walsh, Raoul’s brother). Duke is holed up with Helen’s sister Kate, and Dolan attempts to bring him in without destroying the family. It’s a fairly routine plot . . .

What truly makes it sing, though, are the performances from Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett. Bennett is saucily obstinate, pursing her bow-tie lips before unleashing a cataract of insults. As for Tracy, well, he’s sublime, as is the rest of the cast, who spout a symphony of lower East Side argot that Walsh orchestrates with speed and brio. That’s one of the film’s major pleasures – it’s sense of place, which is another aspect Farber loved about it.

Tynan Yanaga:The chemistry sparks early between Tracy and Bennett, and it slowly grows into a mutual appreciation. He does her a good deed at her sister’s wedding, turning a blind eye and earning points with her blustering father. Later, Danny and Helen trade advice: He straightens his new bowler and she stops chewing gum.

One of their lighter moments on the beat involves the aforementioned drunk in yet another altercation. This time they must defuse a confrontation involving a man who was slapped in the face with a fish. It doesn’t fall into the realm of high-brow comedy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be delightful.

For Me and My Gal — like many films from bygone eras — also has standalone details we can look at from our current station in history and truly appreciate. A radio salesman pulls out all the tricks to get the Rileys to bite on his best merchandise. The budding couple eat vanilla ice cream together in the kitchen, and a cup of java is two bits.

posted by Carillon (4 comments total)
I didn't expect this to be as fun as it was! Young Spencer Tracy was a delight, Joan Bennett was really great, and the rest of the cast and location really pop. It's short, funny, and a bit sweet!
posted by Carillon at 12:08 AM on March 12

Have to say, that trailer pretty much gives away the story...
posted by Naberius at 6:47 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

Tbh the plot is pretty thin stuff, the joy books from the actor, their interactions, and the set more then anything
posted by Carillon at 3:56 PM on March 12

One of the comments about this movie that really sticks with me came from RPG designer and writer Ken Hite, who observed that it dates from the early days of film, when genres were not so rigidly set. To him, MaMG was an experiment in mixing romantic comedy with gritty crime drama/police procedural/early Noir, and despite its many charms, the movie never quite manages to be comfortable with the collision. Nevertheless, I like it! One more note, when I became interested in this film, I found it on YouTube, where it comes and goes, but usually you can find a place to watch it for free.
posted by seasparrow at 2:45 PM on March 13

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