“Winterset” - Dark Noir Gangster Crime Drama
released on December 3, 1936
running time 1 hour and 17 minutes
The Actors: Burgess Meredith (Mio Romagna), Margo (Miriamne Esdras), Eduardo Ciannelli (Trock Estrella, gangster), Maurice Moscovitch (Papa Esdras), Paul Guilfoyle (Garth Esdras, henchman), Edward Ellis (Judge Gaunt), Stanley Ridges (Shadow, henchman), Mischa Auer (radical), Willard Robertson (policeman in the square), Alec Craig (hobo Oak), John Carradine (Bartolomeo Romagna), Myron McCormick (Carr, Mio's pal), and Helen Jerome Eddy (Maria Romagna), Barbara Pepper (girl dancing in alley), Lucille Ball (girl dancing in alley)
Love of Life, Dance of Death, Unhappy Lovers, Under Brooklyn Bridge
You may remember Burgess Meredith from the television show ‘Batman’ where he was the dastardly Penguin, or you may remember him from his role in the Sylvester Stallone ‘Rocky’ movies, or maybe you remember his hilarious lines in the movie ‘Grumpy Old Men.’
Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1907, most of his acting parts were character parts, and he was rarely selected as the leading man. This is his first motion picture, and author Maxwell Anderson chose him to be the leading man for the Broadway production of this gangster adventure and again when the play was filmed in Hollywood.
Maxwell Anderson not only wrote this Academy Award nominated story, but also penned the ‘Key Largo’ gangster classic featuring Humphry Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Edward G. Robinson. In both of these dramas a rain storm dominates the surroundings.
While newcomer Burgess Meredith was the leading man, John Carradine, a young actor who would become famous in horror movies only had a small but important role in the beginning of the story as the immigrant father who died in the electric chair for a crime he did not commit. Three gangsters stole the immigrant father’s car and killed a man to steal the payroll money that he was carrying. No one saw the killers, but they did see the license plate of the car used, and the owner of the car was put to death for the robbery and murder.
Fast forward 16 years and Burgess Meredith, as the grown son of the innocent man who died, has returned to New York City and he will search the small Winterset dead-end alley under the Brooklyn Bridge for evidence of his dead father’s innocence. He will first meet a young girl and fall in love, . . . . But she turns out to be the sister of one of the henchmen involved in the murder.
This dark crime adventure in the mean streets of Great Depression era Brooklyn graphically demonstrates the life and death struggle of working class immigrants trying to survive in the land of opportunity.
Yet, while the fear of death is a constant companion, we will also see the spontaneous love of life that can be had when these same people forget their woes and dance in the dark alley to the music of a hurdy gurdy man. The two girls with dates dancing in the alley are actresses Barbara Pepper and Lucille Ball. Unfortunately, after the moment of music, joy, and dancing in the little dead-end ally, the hard rain of despair will flood the story and our two young lovers. Pop a big bowl of white kernel popcorn with warm melted butter drizzled over it and enjoy the show.
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