BIG CITY stars Spencer Tracy as independent cabbie Joe Benton and Luise Rainer as his Russian born wife, Anna. They have loving relationship and constantly tease each other. She’s only been in the country a few years and looks forward to the three year period(coming up in six weeks) where she can become a citizen. Her brother Paul also drives for Independent Cabs.
Independent is in a cab war with Comet Cabs and it’s starting to escalate. Joe avoids trouble neatly, but others don’t. It’s all being orchestrated by a hood named Beecher(William Demarest) and when the Comet owner decides he’s had enough, the hood amps it up, though politely exiting to avoid suspicion. Beecher plants a bomb in Comet and plans to put the blame on Anna’s brother Paul, known to have secretly taken a job at Comet to spy on them because of his inside man, Buddy, at Independent.
The night its to go off, there’s a party at the Bentons. It’s Anna’s birthday and she reveals to Joe that she’s pregnant. Happy everybody. Paul goes off to his job at Comet and forgets his raincoat(it’s raining heavily). Anna packs it and a sweater in a box to send to him. Buddy volunteers to deliver it.
Exactly what Beecher needs after getting over the anger of seeing Buddy there and learns why. When the bomb goes off, Paul has just arrives and staggers out of the smoke to be shot to death by the night watchman. A very young Paul Fix in an uncredited role is the watchman. I remember him mainly for his role as Micah Torrance some twenty years later on The Rifleman.
Beecher pushes for Anna to get the blame for the bomb. Why put a raincoat in a box? He also wants the forty drivers of Independent arrested and charged as well. How could a mere woman do all that by herself? The Mayor and the DA don’t want that and when it’s learned she’s still six weeks away from being a citizen, they decide to deport her to avoid a lot of trouble.
At Paul’s funeral, they await it’s end to arrest her and slip her onto a ship. She escapes and Joe and the other drivers vow to hide her, moving constantly, until they can find proof she had nothing to do with the bomb. The police are putting pressure on the Independent drivers, harassing them at every turn, arresting them on a whim. Joe gets grabbed and they make like they found his wife, hoping he’ll give something away.
Anna sees what it’s doing to the wives of the drivers and slips away to surrender to the Mayor.
Now the race is really on and when Joe finally gets his proof, it’s nearly to late. The ship sails in an hour and the Mayor is being hard to find. They learn he’s at some sort of awards dinner at Jack Dempsey’s restaurant. They burst in, dragging Buddy into the middle of the celebration. There. he gives an impassioned speech about stopping the ship.
I knew something was up as the camera panned over the crowd, all large, tough looking men. They all rush out and pile into Independent cabs to flash through the city at eighty, ninety miles an hour.
Here’s where it gets fun.
Unaware of who’s in the cabs, Comet drivers send out a call and the entire fleet flies after them, all arriving at the docks in the nick of time. Anna has gone into labor and a doctor on board the ship is called, an ambulance arrives, and Joe stares worriedly into the back as the free-for-all breaks out between the two cab companies. The police would take to long, so those large tough men jump in.
Didn’t have any idea who most of them were until I checked the credits on IMDb. I did know Jack Dempsey and Jim Thorpe. Man Mountain Dean got screen credit. A professional wrestler, he was on crutches in the film, but that didn’t stop him from taking care of a lot of the Comet drivers. He had lied about his age and fought in WWI at fourteen(a very large man even then), also served in WWII and then majored in journalism in college after that. Obviously no dummy. Others in the film: James J. Jeffries, heavyweight boxing champ, 1899-1905, Max “Slapsie Maxie” Rosenbloom, boxer, Rex “Snowy” Baker, Australian athlete and boxer, Bull Montana, managed by Douglas Fairbanks, and Cotton Warburton, college All-American quarterback who became a film editor and won an Oscar for work on Mary Poppins. Many more, boxers, early NFL players, Olympians, all playing themselves. One thing that surprised, maybe it shouldn’t, were two black boxers(and don’t ask me their names, my knowledge only goes so far) that got in some good licks in the fight and weren’t typical of black roles of the period(at least in too many “white” films).
Of course, as these things always go, things end well. As they movie ends, the baby, a boy, ias being christened in Church, and judging by the role call, he’ll have the longest name in history. All forty Independent drivers first names are being called.
Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, known for a lot of westerns during the period, has a fairly meaty role as Joe’s best friend, Danny Devlin. One amusing scene with him happened when he picked up a quart of milk for Anna and when the cops, looking for her braced him, swore it was for himself and chokes the whole quart down in one shot.
For more overlooked films, the place to check in is over at Sweet Freedom, Todd's Mason's corner of the internet.