Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Crime does not pay (as well as it used to) #7

In December of last year, I had accumulated a few bonus points at (formerly and had planned to use them to get a bodacious deal on the Warner Archive set Crime Does Not Pay: The Complete Shorts Collection (1935-1947).  I was really looking forward to acquiring this collection at a sweet price because in the past, I’ve dissected a few of these MGM shorts with the same amount of snark you’ve come to expect from Mayberry Mondays, Serial Saturdays and Doris Day(s).

Sadly, the purchase did not come to pass.  I got an e-mail a couple of days after I placed the order, saying the item was no longer in stock.  I got the same response for two replacement orders (one of them was going to be the set with the Joe McDoakes comedies…and I forget what the other was), and when I sent them an e-mail asking what the deal was, the answer I got was that it was the holiday season, and their vendors probably ran out of stock, and just bite us, fat boy.  (I wound up surrendering the bonus points to my Dad, who got my mom a nice cookbook for their anniversary.)

So after a three-year hiatus (seriously—the last one of these I did was in October 2011), Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is proud to present another episode in the Crime Does Not Pay series…

…which, if the above screen capture is any indication, seems to have been filmed on location in the offices of True the Vote.  The MGM Crime Reporter Guy then introduces us to this severe-looking individual, who’s got a damn good lawsuit against the cosmetic surgeon who attached that permanent sour expression on his face…

…he’s “Edward Gibbon, attorney general of a great inland state”—and though the CDNP shorts use “fictitious names” for “obvious reasons,” we here at TDOY are not bound by that kind of silly confidentiality rule, so I’ll tell you right now he’s actor Robert Elliott.

Of all the crimes that afflict our nation, election fraud is the most dangerous and inexcusable.  Dangerous because it opens the way to every other lawlessness.  Inexcusable because it can only flourish when you, the people, neglect your simple duties.  The last presidential campaign brought out a record-breaking vote…but to vote once every four years is not enough.  Every municipal, county and state election is just as vital to the unity and strength of the nation.  Seldom has the case been clearer than recently in a certain large city in my jurisdiction…

And with that, we are whisked away through the magic of motion pictures to an auditorium, where Frank Y. Carter, a Clean Government candidate for Mayor, is giving a speech to prospective voters…

…Great Caesar’s Ghost!  It’s John Hamilton!  Incidentally, the two political parties in this short are referred to as “Clean Government” and “Graft”—probably because Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer didn’t want to risk pissing anyone off if they used the real designations.  (I will let you decide who is who, particularly since there is some editorializing ahead in this essay.)

CARTER: …the issue…is not whether I shall replace the present mayor…the real issue in this campaign is the crooked political boss John Bailey…against honest, everyday citizens…racketeers…against struggling workers and shopkeepers…

As Carter continues to drone on and on and on, a shadowy figure can be seen lurking backstage.  It’s not The Whistler—it’s an unidentified individual who’s decided that Carter has bloviated long enough, and it’s time to cut his mike.

The auditorium is plunged into darkness, and there’s the usual pandemonium that results from these situations—people starting hauling ass and elbows toward the exits.  Carter’s pleas for the crowd to be calm fall on deaf ears, and outside the auditorium a camera zooms in for a close-up on the word “graft,” which we previously viewed on one of Carter’s campaign posters (“Clean Government vs. Graft”).

The close-up is a tell that we’re about to meet some of the dramatis personae in the Graft party as they listen to the tail end of Carter’s interrupted broadcast (an announcer is kind enough to let us know that due to the interruption, the station will present a musical interlude).  The dyspeptic-looking man seated is the incumbent mayor, James W. 'Jim' Wheelock (Paul Everton), and the man hovering over the radio is none other than the infamous “Boss” Jim Bailey (C. Henry Gordon), whose machine holds this fragile town in its tight, sweaty grip.

WHEELOCK: The voters will blame us for this…
BAILEY: Now, Mayor—you’re not to blame because your supporters like to play a joke on the Clean Government League?  Come on…get a good rest…

Wheelock gets out of his chair and heads toward the door for an exit line: “Bailey…I disapprove heartily of such tricks…it was unnecessary, dangerous and dishonest.”  (Kind of like your administration, eh, Mayor?)

Bailey responds by telling Wheelock to go home “and let us get you re-elected.”  Bailey’s henchman (Norman Willis) then remarks to his boss once Mayor Wheelock has taken a powder: “Unnecessary, dangerous and dishonest—who does that old hypocrite think he’s kidding?”

“Himself…and the voters,” replies “Boss” Bailey as the two of them enter a side room where much political chicanery is taking place.  Many people are milling about in this smoke-filled room, in particular a man who is apparently in charge of keeping track of Wheelock’s slush fund.  He informs Bailey that a contributor hasn’t ponied up enough dark money to the mayor’s campaign, so Bailey decides the personal touch is in order.

BAILEY (grabbing the phone): Hello, this is Bailey…
ASSISTANT: Here’s the file on him…
BAILEY: Uh…say, Walker…one of the city’s chemists claims…that the concrete used in paving Fourth Street…was way below city specifications…
WALKER (on the other end): What?!!  You tell that chemist he’s crazy!  (Rest is inaudible)
BAILEY: What?  Oh, yes—impossible?  Exactly what I told him…I said, “Listen, Pete…if a man can afford to donate $20,000 to the mayor’s campaign fund…he’s not going to risk jail for a few sacks of cement…”  Yes…I knew that you’d appreciate that…what?  No, he’s probably a fifth columnist or something…yeah…thanks…goodbye…

“We’ll get his check tomorrow,” Bailey assures his flunky.  You have to admit—that man is smooth.  Bailey then walks over to an elevated platform in the room to give his machine a little pep talk.

BAILEY: Boys… (The hubbub dies down as they all strain to listen) You’re all doing a good job…but let’s not kid ourselves…you birds can work overtime buying votes, influencing election clerks and stuffing ballot boxes…and we’ll still be lucky—if we get one-third of the total vote!  Now that means…that Clean Government voters who stay home…are just as important as machine voters who go to the polls!  Clean Government voters who stay home on Election Day…are the same as a vote for us!  And don’t forget that!  We’ll have to plaster this town with the idea…that nobody’s single vote counts!  That Carter—is a hypocritical fake…and that it makes no difference who wins anyway!

The man on the left who’s listening to Bailey’s stirring oratory is easily recognized as Raymond Bailey, the future Milburn Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies.  As we witnessed in one of our earlier CDNP presentations, Sucker List (1941), Mr. D had quite a checkered career before going into banking…though a more cynical person than myself might remark that it functioned pretty much as a promotion.

Bailey is one of several henchmen whose job it is to depress voter turnout—and this is done the old-fashioned way, by making individuals who plan to cast a ballot unenthusiastic about the candidates.  Some parties, notably the Democratic Party, still use these older methods (as witnessed in the recent mid-terms).  But back in 1940, these quaint methods were in force because the idea of passing voter I.D. laws to keep the browns, the blahs and the poors from exercising their right to vote hadn’t yet caught fire with the GOP.

We witness a couple of scenarios with a dissolve: Drysdale and his pal pontificate loudly on a subway car (where a gullible voter can heard them) that the Clean Government’s “a fake” and that “Boss” Bailey is actually backing both candidates simply to hedge his bets.  That same gullible fool then engages his fellow boarding house residents in a dinner table conversation that Wheelock and Carter are two peas in a pod-uh.  Another dissolve, and Mr. Drysdale is seen entering a liquor store (run by actor Henry Roquemore) with Graft Party posters, looking to hang one in the window.

OWNER: Hey, you—none of that junk in here!
DRYSDALE: That’s funny…I got you down for a ten buck donation…
OWNER: Ten bucks?  Say, I wouldn’t give you five cents
DRYSDALE: Look…the machine is for you little guys…now f’rinstance—supposing someone got sore at you and tried to clamp down on your license?  Or rule this joint was a fire hazard?
OWNER: This is an honest business!  And you crooks can’t touch me!
DRYSDALE: Okay…see you about it after election…

The insecure store owner then stops Drysdale, and hands him a sawbuck from the till.  “You racketeers will have a lot to answer for if Carter wins,” he warns him.  But Drysdale has all the answers—the machine is backing Carter, too!  “No sense you guys going to the polls and voting,” he assures the donor.  (In the words of Akim Tamiroff in The Great McGinty: “In this town, I’m all the parties…do you think I’m going to starve every time they change administrations?”)

The scene shifts to City Hall.  Bailey’s henchman—the one we saw in the earlier scene with Mayor Wheelock—approaches a custodial engineer (William Edmunds) named Louie, and tells him not to sweat it; he’s got the janitor down for “a day’s pay” to contribute to Wheelock’s campaign.

LOUIE: Ah, Joe…I vote for the other guy
JOE: Louie…an alien like you has to be careful in this country…
LOUIE: Say—I’m a citizen now!
JOE: …it’s full of mean people who figure a guy like you, washing windows for the City Hall…
LOUIE: Hey, Joe—you no like it here…you go back where I come from!

Louie has quite a chortle at his little joke, but Joe is not playing beanbag.  “A day’s pay by noon tomorrow” he tells the intimidated Louie if he wants to keep his job.  (As Joe walks off, Louie mutters something in a language with which I’m not acquainted—but I have a feeling it doesn’t translate as “Bless you, my friend, and may your wife have many masculine male children who do not grow up to be hairdressers.”)

Joe then makes his way down to an office where we hear a nameless civil servant in the act of challenging his supervisor about an order that looks rather hinky.  Actually, this civil servant does have a name—it’s William “Bill” Wright (Byron Shores), and unfortunately for us he’s the hero of this short despite his colorless demeanor and pizazz deficit.

BILL: I don’t understand this order, sir…fifty temporary clerks—how come?
ROBERTS: Put it through and don’t bother me…
BILL: I won’t accept the responsibility, Mr. Roberts…I don’t think they’re clerks at all…I think it’s a gag to dish more city money out to Bailey’s election workers
ROBERTS: Bill…it’s time you learned to be realistic

“Get your ticket for the gravy train, son—there’s plenty of room for everybody on this trip!  And the club car has an open bar!”  Incidentally, the actor playing Supervisor Roberts is one of our favorite character thesps here at TDOY—none other than OTR veteran Will Wright (not to be confused with the hero of this story).

BILL: Some people would call this dishonest
ROBERTS: That’s enough!  You can put this work order through or take the consequences!

Since there is no Door Number Three, Bill decides to go with the consequences—smug in his knowledge that “only the Commission can fire me.”

ROBERTS: You’ve been insubordinatecareless…you’ve neglected your duties to take part in the political campaign of the Reform candidate for mayor… (Picking up phone receiver) Miss Smith…suspend William Wright at once…and schedule a hearing before the Civil Service Commission…one month from today!

Ya burnt, Billy!  The election will be over by then!  Wright tries to save face by announcing that he’s going to go home and write up his report to the Commission…and then he’s going to take a copy over to the Clean Government League.

JOE: I wouldn’t do that…you probably got a girl or a wife…I’d think of her in my future…jobs are scarce…
BILL: Well…one of Bailey’s storm troopers…I’ll mention you, too!

“And for your information, women refuse to have anything to do with me!  So suck on that, storm trooper!”  After making his dramatic exit out of Roberts’ office, Bill runs into a co-worker who answers to Albert “Perky” Perkins—played by Matt McHugh, the lesser-known brother of Frank McHugh, who you’ve seen in a million Warner Brothers movies from the 1930s…because it was a federal law at the time.

PERKY: Hey, Bill—can he make it stick?
BILL: Yeah…
PERKY: He’ll change his mind when he hears some of the dirt I can spill on him!
BILL: Nix…you’ll get canned soon enough without sticking your neck out for me…
PERKY: So?  What have I got to lose?
BILL: Forget it, Perk…but thanks…

Perky also reveals that they cadged a day’s pay off of him to donate to Wheeler…and warns his pal that Bailey’s boys can make plenty of trouble.  “They won’t take a chance so close to election,” Bill assures his friend.  And with that, we fade to…

…yes, Perry White is making another speech on the radio about crooked politicians and it’s each citizens’ duty and argle bargle argle bargle.  Candidate Carter is supposed to have a special guest on his paid political broadcast, but he appears to be running a bit late.  And then it’s revealed…

…that it’s none other than our pal Bill, who looks like forty miles of bad road.  Asked by Perky who gave him the beatdown, Bill responds “Three guesses…”  But here’s the interesting twist in this scenario—he asks the other gentleman, a jamoke named Sanders (John Dilson), to “deputize” him so he can go after the miscreants what mussed his looks.  Keep this in mind if you’re ever canned from a civil service job—all you have to do is ask to be a special deputy, and your worries as to where your next meal is coming from are over!

Even though he does not have a written excuse for his tardiness, Bill is shown the microphone and he addresses the vast listening audience:

BILL: I have just been beaten up because I don’t believe in fake public jobs for hoodlums…that is something that isn’t supposed to happen here…but it happened to me tonight…and unless you wake up, it can happen to any one of you…only instead of a smashed face—your tough luck might be worse…maybe a child run down because the city’s broke and can’t afford enough traffic officers…maybe a job or business wrecked by racketeers…but you don’t have to give time or money to prevent it…all you have to do is vote!  Vote…send Boss Bailey and Mayor Wheelock…and their fellow crooks to jail for their crimes…for extortion…for graft…for false vote registrations from vacant lots and empty buildings…just make up your minds and go to the polls and vote!

Wake up, sheeple!  At the mention of Bailey and Wheelock, the action shifts to the two men listening to Bill’s spiel over a radio in the offices of Graft, Ltd.  Both the Boss and the Mayor are a little hurt by the sting of our hero’s words.

WHEELOCK: I’ll go on the radio and denounce that fellow as a phony!
BAILEY: The voters won’t listen to that stuff…

“After all, they were stupid enough to elect you to higher office, weren’t they?”  No, Bailey demonstrates to his political patron what the people are really interested in as he tunes into various stations on the radio dial: “Swing bands…comedians…prizefights…and on Election Day—they’ll do everything but go to the polls and vote!”

Bailey seems quite smugly certain of himself, as if he were auditioning to be a villain in the next Bond film.  “Oh, they’ll get in their morning game of golf…their type of beauty treatments…mob the bargain sales…worry about their business…throw their weekly bridge parties, and take time off for ballgames—but they will not go to the polls and vote!  They just don’t care that much!”  Sweet guinea pig of Winnipeg—this guy is even more cynical than I am!

A montage follows, with a diligent plasterer changing a sign that formerly read “Vote Tomorrow” to “Vote Today.”  Over this montage, we hear the urbane tones of Boss Bailey observing how the voters got in their golf games, went to the salon, did their shopping, etc.  To drive this point home further, we fade up on a counterman (played by Frank Orth) and a working stiff who’s addressed as “Pete”…but who we know and fear as Hugh Beaumont, later to play TV’s saddest excuse for a father on Leave it to Beaver.

PETE: Are you votin’ today?
COUNTERMAN: Nope…too busy…
PETE: Whaddya mean?  Nobody’s too busy to vote—especially not you
COUNTERMAN: Aw, one vote don’t mean nothin’ in a city this size
PETE: Well, it’d be swell if we all felt that way about it, wouldn’t it?  We could kiss everything we got over here goodbye

“I know something of mine you can kiss…and it’s not a goodbye.”

PETE (dropping money on the counter): Maybe you wouldn’t care, but I would—plenty

In contrast to the counterman’s “I’ve-run-out-of-craps-to-give” attitude, the scene shifts to City Hall, where our pal Perky tells a co-worker off-screen: “You bet I’m voting—in about five minutes!”  But Perk is distracted by a sight just outside the office window:

Holy hanging chads, Batman!  Those guys are threatening to tamper with ballot boxes—and I don’t think they’re with the Chris McDaniel campaign!  The quick-thinking Perky copies down the license plate number of the truck, and in the next scene fills Bill in on the shenanigans…who, in turn, contacts the proper authorities because he’s a special deputy now, damn it.  (I’m not making this up—he even gives his badge number over the phone.)  It’s not going to be easy for Special Deputy Wright (especially since there’s another seven-and-a-half minutes in this short) because the prefix of the license number indicates that it’s a rental.

We then shift to a scene of three men strolling down the street, and we can hear one of them grouse: “Oh, baloney—how can anyone steal an election these days?  Maybe it was different when your father was a kid…”  The guy’s voice trails off as he and his friend continue walking—but the third man splits off and descends a flight of stairs to enter a basement room where we find two Bailey goons seated at a table.  The man hands the two “poll workers” a blank ballot, and after receiving some monetary compensation he heads out the door at the same time another man walks in.  One of the goons makes marks besides the names of the machine candidates and hands it to the newcomer.

HENCHMAN: You ever voted a chain ballot before?  (The man shakes his head) Well, just so you can’t cheat us—this ballot’s already marked…the only way you can get your two bucks is to vote it and bring back the clean one they give ya so we can mark it for the next guy…now don’t crumple it…

“Oh, and have a blessed day.”  Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brian Donlevy was the next mook to show up in that place.  The other gentleman hands him a registration and receipt, telling him to “use that name and address and step on it.”

We then fade in to Graft Headquarters.  Boss Bailey and his thugs are listening to election night returns on the radio, and with twenty-one precincts reporting the tally is Wheelock 6,251…Carter 6,463.

HENCHMAN: Not so good…more honest suckers voted than we figured…
BAILEY: No, but not enough—twenty or thirty strong precincts…will wipe out their whole lead… (Glancing at his watch) And the boys aren’t exactly asleep just now…

No indeedy, they are not.  The action shifts to one precinct where the ballots are about to be counted…and a jovial man (Harry Burns) announces to the workers that there are sandwiches and java for everyone before they start to work.  With everyone out to the kitchen for a nosh, the “gracious host” unlocks the ballot box…and then ushers a pair of Bailey’s henchmen (one of whom is Mr. Drysdale) in, who proceed to empty the box and replace the legitimate votes with their fake ballots.  One of the goons (Dick Rich) takes special notice that this is the last of the precinct boxes, and that they need to hurry up so that they can “get back to the joint and burn these.”

In the meantime, Special Deputy Bill continues his investigation into the rental vehicle license plate.  Assisted by his faithful Indian companion Perky, the two men locate the address that was on the rental form and they sneak inside a darkened print shop to investigate.

Shazam!  A printing press with the precise ballot form template!  Bill quickly inks up the press and taking one of the paper ballots, fires it up to make a quick copy as evidence of this crooked election.  Perky hears a truck pulling up outside, and Bill sends him out to their car to start it up.  Just as Bill completes his task, Drysdale and two other gorillas enter the business in time to spot him running out the back door…on the street, he hops into the car with Perky and the two of them begin to drive away.  Drysdale draws his pistola and fires at the car, and as they turn a corner on two wheels, Bill has nothing but praise for his pal.  “Nice work, Perky!”

Hoo boy.  Looks like they got Perky.  As Perk draws his final breath, Bill hears a newsboy in the distance—Wheelock has been re-elected in a race that went down to the wire.

I know what you’re thinking—“What a horrible, horrible ending!”  And though our civic-minded pal Pete might be disappointed with the election results (“Those dirty crooks!”), Special Deputy Bill has presented the faux ballot to the office of Attorney General Sourpuss, and one of his men is demonstrating to candidate Carter, Bill and a few others the discrepancies in the two ballots.  A.G. Grouchface then gets buzzed on the intercom: they’ve extracted the bullet from dead hero Perky, and if they can locate the gun with the matching markings it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the killer.  The Attorney General swings into action, notifying one of his deputies that they need to hie to the Twelfth Street warehouse where the ballots are stored…and that Bailey is going to throw a fit when he learns the A.G.’s office is on to him.  (Personally, I think Bailey’s days in the election fixing business are just about over—so it really doesn’t matter much.)

Back at Graft Headquarters, re-elected Mayor Wheelock is greeted by partygoers and well-wishers as he enters the building.  Bailey?  A word in your ear?

WHEELOCK: You know they found the print shop…they’re sure to question the election—suppose they inspect the ballots?
BAILEY: Well, suppose they can’t find them?

Bailey takes Wheelock out on the patio and suggests that he look far off into the distance.  They can see the warehouse from where they stand, but if the Mayor also sees a raging inferno shortly…that means Bailey’s men have destroyed all of the evidence of that naughty old crooked election.

WHEELOCK: The Perkins killing was cold-blooded murder
BAILEY: Well, we just won the election—we’re judge, jury and executioner in this town!  It’s all ours!  The streets, the buildings, the people…we own it all

At the Twelfth Street Warehouse, several of Bailey’s henchmen are ready to torch the ballots and burn that mutha to the ground.  The two-fisted Molotov cocktail guy on the left…

…has just one line of dialogue—“Okay?”—but his unmistakable voice reveals him to be OTR’s own Ken Christy.  The Bailey gang start the blaze, but Special Deputy Bill and his coterie arrive on the scene in time to douse the fire with water hoses…which leads to this predictable denouement:

The counterman is most cynical about this turn of events.  “There’s democracy for ya,” he gripes.  His pal Pete has a few questions for him.

PETE: Did you vote against the men?
COUNTERMAN: The whole system’s rotten, clear through!
PETE: Did you vote?
COUNTERMAN: And there’s only one way to clean it up, and that’s the way they done it in Europe—with a strong man!
PETE (grabbing his collar): What do you think Boss Bailey was?  He rewrote plenty of laws…he faked elections…he pushed people around…that’s why we ran him out!  Now—did you vote?
COUNTERMAN (sheepishly): No…
PETE: Then just shut up…and stay shut up…

I wish we could have seen more of this Hugh Beaumont on Beaver, by the way.  (“Beav—you’re never going to be as gifted as Wally or as popular…so how about having a nice, piping-hot bowl of STFU?  And try not to fall into it, ferchrissake…”)

Okay—one more lecture from Attorney General Vinegar Face and then we’re done.

Today, democracy is on trial…and the outcome depends far less on the spies and fifth columnists of hostile nations…than how well we cherish our great distinguishing right…the free and secret ballot.  If ever your one vote seems not to mean very much—just pause and reflect…that for millions elsewhere who felt the same way…government of the people, by the people and for the people…has perished from the earth.

That’s a wrap—happy Thanksgiving, everybody!


M. Bouffant said...

It's not the Edward Gibbon who wrote Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire?

I am disappoint.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

It's not the Edward Gibbon who wrote Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire?

No, this is Edward "Funky" Gibbon - the A.G. who first popularized the phrase "You kids stay out of my yard!"