Lessons learned from old movies: if you’re looking for romance there’s really no better place to work than a hospital. That went in 1933, and I’m sure there’s something new on TV that still proves it today. The particular hospital where The Girl in 419 is set is a police hospital, so the staff is more hardboiled than usual. Bootleggers and gangsters pass in and out, and favors are easily curried simply by being chummy with the right people. James Dunn plays the big dog here, superstar Dr. Daniel French.
When gangster Spike Manessa is shot the police put in a request for Dr. French. How do you find that guy, another doctor wonders. “You make a noise like a woman and he comes running,” receptionist Kitty (Kitty Kelly) replies.
Most of the hospital employees are introduced during this hunt for French, who’s eventually found with one of his nurses (Shirley Grey) in his arms. French also has a pet orderly, Otto (Vince Barnett), whose sole duty seems to be keeping the doc comfortable. Otto's dedication stretches so far that at one point he even takes a moment to scrub French's back after tracking him down in the shower. French is worshiped, well, by everyone, but especially by young Dr. Nichols (David Manners), an aspiring surgeon who mentions his hands so often that we know they’re ticketed for tragedy of some kind.
French arrives at the hotel room where Manessa has been shot and immediately declares him dead. The Lieutenant (Edward Gargan) explains that it was a poker game gone awry: three guys came to play Manessa, shot him and calmly departed. Slug (Johnny Hines), a reporter who French allowed to tag along in exchange for a bottle of Scotch, is then ordered out of the room by the Lieutenant, who assures him the full scoop later. “What will it be full of?” Slug asks. Once Slug is gone, French turns amateur detective. He spots lipstick on a cigarette butt and makes the master deduction that there was also a woman present at the scene of the crime.
Meanwhile, back at the hospital, a mysterious beautiful blonde (Gloria Stuart) has arrived, alternately delirious and unconscious, and beaten within an inch of her life. Dr. French, young Nichols (Manners), and Nurse Blaine (Grey) all agree on one fact: she’s beautiful, too beautiful to die. She's pretty enough to warrant special treatment, especially from Dr. French, who no longer has any use for Nurse Blaine and threatens her with suspension if she gets too lippy about him and his gorgeous patient. “I wouldn’t do that,” Blaine says. “Some girls kiss and tell, you know.”
Gangster Peter Lawton (William Harrigan) is a regular around the police hospital, making him somewhat of a friendly acquaintance to French. Lawton takes a look at the breathtaking beauty and swears he doesn’t know her. Once she regains consciousness Lawton changes his story. His relationship with Dr. French breaks down from there. Lawton, who shares a love of fine art and good booze with French, leaves the hospital and catches up with his top killer, violin-playing Sammy (Jack La Rue). Sammy swears the girl should have never survived the beating he put her through, and Lawton reminds him that she better not live long enough to talk.
Paramount pre-Code directed by Alexander Hall and George Somnes, The Girl in 419 runs a breezy 67-minutes (though my copy is an even breezier 64 minutes) and works its way to an ending both surprising and satisfying.
James Dunn, a couple of years off the success of Bad Girl (1931), makes for a good lead, somehow down-to-earth even while handing out favors and mixing business with way too much pleasure. David Manners is fine in his role of loyal assistant, especially good at the end. Gloria Stuart spends a good deal of the movie either unconscious or delirious, so she’s tolerable, and Shirley Grey is excellent as Dunn’s discarded love interest. Grey turns kind of tough after being rejected by Dunn, but nobody has more attitude than Kitty Kelly’s receptionist, who fends off propositions from various doctors throughout. Kelly is a favorite in limited minutes. William Harrigan (The Invisible Man, G Men) is growing on me, reminding me of Alan Dinehart in these type of parts. Despite the class, you know Harrigan is trouble from the start, since he's first seen with Jack La Rue. Former silent screen comedian Johnny Hines is on hand as Slug, favored news reporter, who winds up spending a good portion of his time waiting for Billy Gilbert to set a sneezing record. Vince Barnett does his simple act, with accent, and is there for us to get attached to. It works.
A busy hour builds to strong end. The comedy outweighs the drama, but it moves fast enough to get away with it. Gangster movie crossed with hospital drama.
Never released to home video, try checking FindOldMovies.com.
My IMDb rating: 7/10.