ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN (1938)
Director: William Clemens
Writers: George Bricker and Anthony Coldeway (screen play) from a story by George Bricker
Starring: Ronald Reagan, Sheila Bromley, Gloria Blondell, Dick Purcell
Ronald Reagan as an insurance fraud investigator with a greedy wife who gets involved with a big fraud gang.
I had no idea Joan Blondell even had a sister until I happened on this film. The lesser-known sister, Gloria, made something like two dozen Hollywood features. In the 1940s she played the voice of Disney’s Daisy Duck. She did television in the 1950s (I love Lucy and The Life of Riley)
The sisters started off as part of a vaudeville troupe “The Bouncing Blondells.”
Ronald Reagan was 27 when he made this movie, but he looks much younger. He plays pretty much his standard part – smart, cocky guy.
Shiela Bromley as the greedy wife is probably the most impressive of the actors. She had small parts in a great many Hollywood movies and then went on to do a lot of television.
This is an unambitious, but well put together B film. The honest young insurance man gets done badly by his wife and has to take on the insurance fraud gangs to get his reputation back (and a better girl).
Sociologically, the notable part of the film is a sequence involving just one of the numerous insurance fraud schemes. The fraud schemes organized by the gang involve hiring people to jump out of a car before it goes over a cliff, falling down a set of outside stairs in a bus and other faked car accidents.
But, one of these schemes illustrates just how casual and heartless the racism of the time was in films. This is the only one of the schemes to involve a person of color, the only one where the person hired is a dupe or portrayed as an object of fun (except a guy who pretends to be drunk).
The first scene to set this up is in a doctor’s office where the doctor is fooling with a wooden brace. A black man is sitting in a chair. The doctor puts the black man’s arm in the brace and starts to use a hammer to break the arm. The black man objects. The gang member says: You signed up for this job. The black may says, Yeah, but I changed my mind. The gang member offers him more money and the black man agrees asking for the doctor to break his arm gently.
Then, we see the black man standing on a street corner, waiting for a car driven by one of the gang members to come down the street. He walks right in front of the car and is sideswiped. He then gets up and complains loudly about his broken arm.
This incident involves the only real physical harm that comes to any of the stooges hired by the gang. The other people are playing parts, or in one case, an acrobat who knows how to fall.
It’s painful to watch the doctor swing the hammer as he tries to come down on the black man’s arm, and it’s disturbing to watch the man be sideswiped by the oncoming car. It’s also notable that the black man is portrayed as somewhat stupid and overly impressed by the money. The other stooges are cynical, playing a part, people obviously used to acting as stooges.
Article about racism and the early Hoillywood films.
Note: I have to correct part of the post from yesterday. Peter Lorre did have dialogue in the film just at the end right before he is hit by a truck and killed.