The first two times I landed in New York it was snowing, knee-deep, powdery stuff. The city has always seemed to belong in snowfall to me ever since. Maybe that’s what I liked so much about the world of Marion Gering’s 24 HOURS, a Paramount melo from 1931. New York in Gering’s vision is a purely art deco construction, from the streets and ‘scrapers to the night clubs and Clive Brook’s chiseled chin.
Better yet, the title sequence is a floating camera prowl through the concrete canyons with credits embossed on building facades, a senselessly elaborate, elegant and hyper-unreal anticipation of Fincher’s PANIC ROOM titles, where the lettering floats blimp-like down Fifth Avenue, casting shadows on the storefronts. And Gering returns obsessively to his toytown, breaking up the action to show the passage of time via an obviously fake art deco tower clock, looming over the characters like Fate.
Asides from the reliably stiff, unappealing Brook, we get Kay Francis in a smothering array of gowns, and Miriam Hopkins — I want to say “at her most shrill,” but that’s not really true, she had seven or eight higher storeys of mania up there. But she’s certainly at her most, um, provincial. “I wouldn’t give ya change for a pow-stage stay-ump!” she squawks at “shivering hophead” hubby Regis Toomey.
Movie roves around with the languid feeling common at pre-code Paramount, despite its urban setting and gangster sub-plot. Perhaps as a result, while Warners movies compress a week’s worth of plot into 65 minutes, this one feels like it could do with more running time. When Hopkins is murdered (which would’ve happened twenty minutes into a Warners movie, if only to stop her singing), Brooks is accused, and then suddenly he’s cleared, reunited with his swanky wife, and off the liquor, and the movie is over. The moral seems to be pro-marriage and anti dabbling with showgirls, which can only lead to homicide. I resented the way Hopkins character, a decent woman despite the grating qualities, was essentially used as a twelve-step program for the slumming millionaire.
Visually the film is often very impressive, though, with a fluid moving camera which gets excited about odd things, and even throws in a zoom lens for one shot (Paramount seems to have had sole custody of this hi-tech device: Mamoulian got to use it in LOVE ME TONIGHT). The moody nocturnal snowscapes of the city give way to bright daylight and a feeling of location work conjured by surprising perspectives ~
Gering seems to have done his best work in pre-codes, where he helmed several Sylvia Sidneys and an early Cary Grant or two, before his movie career fizzled. But he revisited the world of the naughty in later years, with a mondo Japan effort entitled VIOLATED PARADISE (1963). As the missing link between pre-code and mondo, Gering bears further investigation…