Lloyd Bacon | Miss Pinkerton
| 42nd Street | The Irish in Us
| Marked Woman | Three Cheers for the Irish
| Footsteps in the Dark
| Larceny, Inc. | It Happens Every Spring
Classic Film and Television Home Page
Lloyd Bacon is a Hollywood film director.
Subjects in Lloyd Bacon films:
- Secret lives (nurse undercover for police, secret marriage: Miss Pinkerton,
big spender in club, heroine deceiving sister: Marked Woman.
secret marriage: Three Cheers for the Irish,
rich man turned mystery writer: Footsteps in the Dark,
crooks and store: Larceny, Inc.,
professor turned ballplayer: It Happens Every Spring,
head of gang: The Good Humor Man)
- Relations between intellectuals or the educated, and working class people
(nurse and servants: Miss Pinkerton,
doctors and patients, doctor and nurse: Mary Stevens, M.D.,
DA and heroine: Marked Woman,
police college grad versus beat cop: Three Cheers for the Irish,
hero and Allen Jenkins: Footsteps in the Dark,
professor and baseball player: It Happens Every Spring)
- Amateur detectives (nurse undercover for police: Miss Pinkerton,
mystery writer: Footsteps in the Dark,
ice cream vendor: The Good Humor Man)
- Preparations for a big event (rehearsals: 42nd Street,
boxing training: The Irish in Us,
election campaign: Three Cheers for the Irish)
- Retirees take on new professions (ex-cop runs for alderman: Three Cheers for the Irish,
ex-ballplayer becomes umpire: Kill the Umpire)
- Sexy cops (George Brent: Miss Pinkerton,
Pat O'Brien: The Irish in Us,
Dennis Morgan: Three Cheers for the Irish,
Randolph Scott: Home Sweet Homicide)
- Siblings, grown but close (brothers: The Irish in Us, sisters: Marked Woman,
sisters: Three Cheers for the Irish, brothers: The Fighting Sullivans)
- Irish-American working class families (The Irish in Us,
Three Cheers for the Irish, The Fighting Sullivans)
- Men helped by resourceful kids (hero and black kid: You Said a Mouthful,
mystery and three kids: Home Sweet Homicide,
hero and Captain Marvel fan club: The Good Humor Man)
- Injured characters (leading lady and leg: 42nd Street,
men knocked out by boxers: The Irish in Us, beating: Marked Woman,
man stuffed in piano: Three Cheers for the Irish,
splint: It Happens Every Spring, catcher: Kill the Umpire)
related (patient in shock: Miss Pinkerton, ill patients: Mary Stevens, M.D.,
fits that simulate death: The Good Humor Man)
- Gay men (director: 42nd Street, dancers: Wonder Bar)
- Ordinary heroes who get to take part in professional sports
(swim race: You Said a Mouthful, boxing: The Irish in Us,
baseball: It Happens Every Spring)
- Baseball (opening game: Larceny, Inc.,
It Happens Every Spring, Kill the Umpire)
- Science (medical treatments: Miss Pinkerton, hero invents unsinkable swim suit: You Said a Mouthful,
medical treatments and serum: Mary Stevens, M.D.,
one-way window at DA's: Marked Woman,
scientific police work: Footsteps in the Dark, formula: It Happens Every Spring,
eyedrops and double vision: Kill the Umpire)
- Radio broadcasts (police radio room: Miss Pinkerton,
swim race: You Said a Mouthful, Footsteps in the Dark)
- Sound communication technology (Dictaphones, telephone: Footsteps in the Dark,
phonograph record and alibi: Home Sweet Homicide,
switchboard: The Fuller Brush Girl)
- Staircases (kitchen: Miss Pinkerton, stage door alley at end, backstage: 42nd Street,
gangster apartment, sidewalk leading down to club, courthouse steps: Marked Woman,
apartment house: Three Cheers for the Irish, foyer: Footsteps in the Dark)
- Kitchens (spooky mansion: Miss Pinkerton, breakfast: The Irish in Us, Three Cheers for the Irish,
flooding kitchen: The Fighting Sullivans)
- Water sequences, often surreal (swim race: You Said a Mouthful, Carson frozen, swept away: The Good Humor Man)
- Gymnasiums (boxing training: The Irish in Us, school chase finale: The Good Humor Man)
- Dangerous houses at night (old dark house: Miss Pinkerton, boarded-up house: The Good Humor Man)
- Cops direct traffic on city streets (finale: 42nd Street, Three Cheers for the Irish)
- Fruit vendors on city streets (finale: 42nd Street, Three Cheers for the Irish)
related (ice cream truck: The Good Humor Man)
- Uniforms (police: Miss Pinkerton,
cop twirling nightstick in finale, doorman: 42nd Street,
shipboard officers: Mary Stevens, M.D.,
police, firemen, telegraph, ring guard: The Irish in Us,
police: Three Cheers for the Irish, baseball, telegraph: It Happens Every Spring,
ice cream vendor, cop in leather jacket: The Good Humor Man)
- Male grooming, often shared between men
(present of swim suit, hero loses swim suit in race: You Said a Mouthful,
hero lends brother's suit to boxer, uses brother's robe as boxing robe: The Irish in Us,
gift of nightstick: Three Cheers for the Irish,
hero talks warden into giving him suit: Larceny, Inc.,
getting uniform that fits, tearing off uniforms at victory, hair tonic: It Happens Every Spring,
uniform stolen: The Good Humor Man)
Miss Pinkerton (1932) is a version of
Mary Roberts Rinehart's better novel,
one of her series about a nurse-detective, Hilda Adams, nicknamed "Miss Pinkerton".
Joan Blondell as the nurse and George Brent as her policeman friend shine at their romantic
banter, but the rest of the film has too much Old Dark House-ism. Blondell lets
out several screams that would have done Evelyn Ankers proud confronting the
Wolf Man - a come-down from the sensible (and feminist) sleuth of the novel.
The shots of the sleuths using flashlights are striking. These make dramatic circles of light.
One showing Brent revealing a bad guy is is especially dramatic.
42nd Street (1933) is the first of the remarkable Warner Brothers musicals with
choreography by Busby Berkeley.
The director of the stage show (played by Warner Baxter), is unusual in being a gay man.
He is not explicitly labeled as such, but his characterization is distinct. The next year,
in the otherwise not very good Wonder Bar (1934), Bacon will include a brief scene
of two gay men dancing. These are some of the most gay portraits of the 1930's.
42nd Street ends with Baxter, melancholy and alone, with crowds
streaming out celebrating his stage show. It is a haunting image.
The touring group of entertainers in 42nd Street anticipate the traveling baseball team
in It Happens Every Spring.
Characters in Bacon tend to get mild, non-serious temporary injuries, which affect their work on the job.
In It Happens Every Spring, there is the wooden splint. In 42nd Street, star Bebe Daniels
has to walk around on crutches for a little while, just long enough to make her miss opening night.
The cop twirling his nightstick in time with the music in the finale is a memorable image.
It is not clear whether Bacon had anything to do with this finale, or whether it is the work
of choreographer Busby Berkeley.
The Irish in Us
The Irish in Us (1935) is a comedy.
The Sports Finale
SPOILER. The Irish in Us moves to the same finale as 42nd Street:
The lead has to go out and substitute for a comically, temporarily incapacitated star,
and becomes a public success in their own right. In 42nd Street,
this was Ruby Keeler playing a lead on Broadway. In The Irish in Us,
it is James Cagney substituting for a knocked-out boxer in the ring.
The finale of The Irish in Us also anticipates It Happens Every Spring,
with escapist fantasies of a non-athlete getting to perform in professional sports.
It also recalls another non-athlete who gets into a contest with a pro,
in the swim meet in You Said a Mouthful. As in You Said a Mouthful,
the professional athlete is looking for an easy contest against an unskilled
opponent, only to meet with stiffer competition than he expects.
The final sports contests of You Said a Mouthful and The Irish in Us
also resemble each other, in that their protagonists spend a good deal of time being
helped out and encouraged by their families and loved ones. They don't succeed on
their own; they win with others' help.
The Irish in Us has uniformed characters and male grooming:
- Pat O'Brien is a policeman.
- Frank McHigh is a fireman.
- Cagney loans O'Brien's suit to the boxer, causing O'Brien difficulty getting dressed.
- The telegraph deliverer has a spiffy uniform.
- So does the guard at the boxing ring.
- The boxers wear athletic clothes, with the hero's being made at home.
- Cagney wears O'Brien's robe as a boxer's robe.
- O'Brien and McHugh get dressed up in formal wear for the dance.
Marked Woman (1937) is a crime melodrama.
Marked Woman has a number of people embodying that Lloyd Bacon subject secret lives:
- The man from out-of-town is pretending to be a rich Big Spender. Like the professor in
It Happens Every Spring, he goes to another city to realize a new fantasy existence.
- The heroine is pretending to be a respectable woman, to conceal her sordid lifestyle
from her kid sister. As in other Bacon films, a family is being deceived.
Relations across Classes
Marked Woman also develops another Bacon theme, relations across class lines.
Working woman Bette Davis eventually develops a rapport with upper crust DA Humphrey Bogart.
The film suggests that this is not going to be easy. It might not go anywhere. In some other Bacon
films, such relations are often between two men.
Bogart is clearly well-educated and is very articulate in the courtroom, so he is at the borderline
of the intellectual that often forms one half of the educated intellectual - working man Bacon pair.
Unlike some other Bacon films, there is not much about science in Marked Woman. Bogart's
one-way window for viewing suspects in perhaps a technological aspect of his character.
The staircases in Marked Woman are not as large as some in Bacon films. But they are key settings:
- The staircase at the gangster's apartment is where the killing occurs.
- The outdoor staircase leading down to the club, also plays a role: it makes the club look cheap
- The finale is staged on the courthouse steps.
Three Cheers for the Irish
Three Cheers for the Irish (1940) is a comedy-drama about a retired Irish policeman
in New York City and his family.
The gap between Dennis Morgan, a graduate of the Police College, and the beat cop
Thomas Mitchell, is a bit like that between the intellectuals and working class men in
other Bacon. However, Morgan's character does not get any intellectuality stressed.
He does really know his police regulations and procedures, which he quotes on occasion.
Some of the New York City street scenes recall the final music number in 42nd Street,
the title tune of that show:
It is unclear how much Bacon had to do with the finale of 42nd Street:
maybe it is mainly the work of choreographer Busby Berkeley. Still,
the similarity of imagery is striking.
- As in 42nd Street, we see a fruit vendor with
big display stands of fruit on the street - although the vendor has a pushcart in
42nd Street, and a whole store in Three Cheers for the Irish.
- And a traffic cop who blows his whistle,
to enable crowds of pedestrians to cross a street.
There is a striking shot showing Dennis Morgan going down the apartment house staircase.
As is perhaps typical of Bacon, the stairs are steep and long. The camera angle is tilted and
somewhat overhead. The staircase is in the background of several other scenes.
Dennis Morgan is in a dressy police uniform in most of his scenes.
Thomas Mitchell is given a nightstick, as a present (by a fellow cop) for his 25th anniversary
as a policeman. This is an example in Bacon of one man involved with another man's
Footsteps in the Dark
Footsteps in the Dark (1941) has nothing to do with Georgette Heyer's
1932 novel of the same name. Rather, it is a comedy mystery starring
Errol Flynn. He plays a wealthy businessman who has a secret life
as a mystery writer. Eventually he gets involved in a real murder
case himself, turning amateur sleuth to solve the mystery.
The film is at it best in its first half. These are the sections with
the most about Flynn's double life. The second half tends to neglect
this aspect, and just be a conventional whodunit, one that goes
on way too long. The first half has some delightful comedy as
well, including Flynn's impersonation of a Texas rancher. Flynn's
character is getting to try out all sorts of roles, something
that the public has always enjoyed daydreaming about. In general,
the comedy in this film is much more interesting than the mystery.
Two Kinds of Detective Fiction
The film has been paying attention to the intuitionist - realist
controversy in prose detective fiction:
Hale and Flynn challenge each other to the solution of
a real life mystery. Unfortunately, the debate is not sustained
throughout the film. Instead the police turn into the cliché
dumb flat foots of the whodunit film, always having some stupid
idea they are following.
- The sleuth that mystery author Flynn has been writing about is a genius amateur detective,
one who solves crimes through pure thinking. This sort of detective is at the center of
the intuitionist tradition in detective fiction.
- This is scoffed at by the head of the Homicide Bureau
(Alan Hale), who says that detection is now a science, as practiced
by the police, and that scientific crime solving would far outstrip
such amateurs. Hale is arguing the basic position of the realist
Other features of the realist school also play a role in the story:
- The film is into the mystique of high tech communication. We see
Dictaphones, telephones and radio broadcasts in the movie.
- There is also much about alibis in the film.
The movie under-exploits Allen Jenkins as Flynn's long-suffering
assistant. When Jenkins does get a chance to toss off a wisecrack,
he does it with his usual expertise. Mainly, Jenkins must rely
on his facial expressions to contribute to the scenes. One shot
of this archetypal tough guy working as Flynn's typist is priceless.
Jenkins has an "I'm agreeable and I'll do anything"
kind of look. He also looks as if he is enjoying his work. Jenkins'
characters always have a dog like loyalty. There is something
reassuring about his presence. He also looks resourceful and practical.
This background approach to supporting players is perhaps typical
of Bacon. He restricted Jenkins similarly in 42nd Street
(1933) to an occasional one liner. By contrast, Roy Del Ruth
tends to give Warners' contract players whole scenes to themselves,
allowing them to really shine.
There is a big staircase in the foyer of Flynn's mansion. One recalls the giant staircase
in the kitchen, in Bacon's Miss Pinkerton (1932).
Larceny, Inc. (1942) is a crime comedy.
Larceny, Inc. opens with the characters playing baseball, anticipating
It Happens Every Spring and Kill the Umpire.
The characters in Larceny, Inc. have a secret life, a Bacon tradition.
This secret life involves a criminal scheme, unlike the men with honest secret lives
in Footsteps in the Dark and It Happens Every Spring.
It Happens Every Spring
It Happens Every Spring (1949) is a science fiction and baseball comedy.
Like Bacon's early Joe E. Brown comedy vehicle You Said a Mouthful,
it stars a man who makes a scientific invention, and uses it to take
part in professional sports.
It Happens Every Spring shows similar character types as
Footsteps in the Dark:
Both films pit two approaches to an activity against each other. One approach is
science-based, one is not:
- The hero is an intellectual who develops a secret life, to pursue a
career in entertainment. Both heroes are played by refined, charming
actors from the British Commonwealth.
- He develops a special friendship with a working class good guy, who shares
his new career and life (Allen Jenkins in Footsteps in the Dark,
Paul Douglas' ball player in It Happens Every Spring).
- The hero has conflicts with his in-laws over his secret activities.
- The hero starts out by concealing his life from his wife or girlfriend. But she's
a good sport, and decides she wants in on the act - rather than trying to end his
The two movies are not an exact parallel: in It Happens Every Spring, the hero
is the scientist; in Footsteps in the Dark, the hero is the non-scientist amateur.
- Footsteps in the Dark pits an amateur sleuth against the scientific detective work
of the police.
- It Happens Every Spring contrasts traditional baseball players, with
chemistry prof Milland's formula for chemicals on the baseball.
It Happens Every Spring takes place in a technological world. The portrait of the hero
as a scientist is quite elaborate, with lab work, teaching, note taking, funding, jobs
and scientific books he reads.
As in Footsteps in the Dark, radio broadcasts play a role in It Happens Every Spring.
The heroine uses a magnifying glass on newspaper photos, a striking image.
She also uses binoculars, at the baseball game.
It Happens Every Spring is full of uniforms and male grooming:
- The college baseball player wears a large M on his school sweater.
- The hero has trouble getting the team to give him a uniform that fits.
- Paul Douglas puts his catcher's mask off and on a lot.
- Douglas has his wife's name Mabel tattooed on his arm.
- The telegraph deliverer has a spiffy uniform.
- There are many gags about hair tonic and grooming hair.
- The players tear off each others' uniforms, after their big victory.