Bootlegger/cafe owner Ralph Bellamy recruits crude working man Wallace Beery to join his gang which is masterminded by crooked criminal defense lawyer Lewis Stone. Beery eventually takes over Bellamy\'s operation, beats a rival gang, becomes wealthy and dominates the city for several years until a secret group of 6 masked businessmen have him prosecuted and sent to the electric chair with the help of rival crusading newspapermen Clark Gable and Johnny Mack Brown. Waitress Jean Harlow is torn between her love for the honest newsman Brown and her financial dependence on her generous boss, Beery.
Wallace Beery ... Louis \'Louie\' Scorpio
Lewis Stone ... Richard \'Newt\' Newton
Johnny Mack Brown ... Hank Rogers (as John Mack Brown)
Jean Harlow ... Anne Courtland
Marjorie Rambeau ... Peaches
Paul Hurst ... Nick \'the Gouger\' Mizoski
Clark Gable ... Carl Luckner
Ralph Bellamy ... Johnny Franks
John Miljan ... Smiling Joe Colimo
DeWitt Jennings ... Chief Donlin
Murray Kinnell ... \'Dummy\' Metz (alias of Fink)
Fletcher Norton ... Jimmy Delano
Louis Natheaux ... Eddie
Frank McGlynn Sr. ... Judge (as Frank McGlynn)
Theodore von Eltz ... Dist. Atty. Keeler (as Theodore Von Eltz)
While not on the level of the work being done in Warners crime films during the same period (\"The Public Enemy,\" \"Little Caesar\"), \"The Secret Six\" is a fine picture with a lot to recommend it.
Primarily, this comes from the cast. Wallace Beery, then at the height of his fame, makes for a good central figure as Louis \"Slaughterhouse\" Scorpio, as the name implies, a former slaughterhouse worker turned bootlegger and murderer. His ordering \"a hunk o\'steak\" after spending all day crushing animals heads with a sledgehammer suggests, right at the beginning, that killing means nothing to this huge primate of a man. Lewis Stone, on the wrong side of the law for once, is Newton, the dandyish crooked lawyer and head of the gang, giving an understated, sinister performance and making every scene count. Ralph Bellamy, one of the movies\' perennial nice guys, plays a very, very bad guy here, as the gangster who brings Scorpio into the gang, to his later regret. And veteran Marjorie Rambeau, while she has little to do overall, is good as Bellamy\'s blowsy mistress, Peaches, a far cry from the society matrons she would specialize in later in her career.
But the big surprise, and one of the main reasons for watching this picture, are the solid early performances of Jean Harlow and a young, sans-mustache Clark Gable. Both were free-lancers who were hired for this film on a one-time basis. MGM was so impressed with their work as, respectively, Anne, the cigarette girl who loves and loses reporter Johnny Mack Brown, and Carl, the crusading reporter who aids the Secret Six of the title in bringing down Stone and Beery\'s criminal organization, that they were hired to long-term contracts right after the picture was completed. Both turn in solid performances. Those who think Harlow couldn\'t act should see her in the last third of the film, particularly the trial scene. And the sheer mile-a-minute energy Gable brings to his role makes his every scene watchable. Within the next few years, these two would establish themselves as the stuff of Hollywood legend.
Directed by the excellent, underrated George Hill (\"Tell It To the Marines,\" \"Min and Bill,\" \"Hell Divers\"), scripted by the great Frances Marion, and with the aforementioned solid cast and the usual MGM gloss, \"The Secret Six\" makes for a very enjoyable film, for historians, crime film buffs, fans of the stars, and just those of us who appreciate a good, involving story.
THE SECRET SIX looks like an antiquated crime film, despite some of the comments here talking about \"MGM gloss\". It doesn\'t have any gloss and it doesn\'t compare favorably to the tougher Warner Bros. crime dramas of the same period.
The only surprises here are in the odd casting choices. RALPH BELLAMY (Mr. Nice Guy or \"other man\" in most films) playing a rotten gangster type with lines like \"Easy on the rods\" to his fellow gangsters and a tough guy sneer on his face. He\'s a double-crossing leader of a gang who tries to get rid of WALLACE BEERY, but fails and is shot in the back by Beery for his efforts. Since this comes pretty early in the film, it\'s a bit of a surprise. So is seeing Bellamy as a gangster.
The other surprise is seeing LEWIS STONE (Andy Hardy\'s dad) as a crooked lawyer who rules the mobsters with a firm hand, but makes the fatal mistake of turning his back on Beery toward the end. Stone seems out of his element here as the dapper lawyer with the cane.
And finally, into the film comes a very young CLARK GABLE (sans moustache) looking fit and chipper as a rather callow newspaper man who jokes around with another newspaper guy JOHNNY MACK BROWN, who happens to be Harlow\'s love interest (instead of Gable).
Despite these surprises, the film itself is as ordinary as they come, a simple gangster story with a Prohibition background about bootleggers who get mixed up with gun molls, crooked lawyers and crime stoppers like \"The Secret Six\" who are able to capture bad guy Beery and put an end to his monopoly on crime in the city. The plot sounds vaguely like it may have been based on Al Capone\'s true-life story.
Summing up: Only gets lively toward the end with all the shoot-outs, but pretty stale stuff most of the time.
Trivia note: Interesting for the glimpse it gives of CLARK GABLE and JEAN HARLOW before they hit the big time stardom waiting for them.
I saw this recently on TCM and was quite impressed. This film came before the better known gangster movies of that era-- \"Little Caesar,\" \"Public Enemy,\" and, the greatest of them all-- \"Scarface.\" It was also made at a time when sound recording technology for motion pictures was very new and still in development. The first talkie gangster movie, which happened to be the first all-talkie movie, was \"Lights of New York,\" made in 1928. In that film the equipment was so clunky that the actors had to speak loud and slow and stay close to the microphone. By 1931, several improvements had come along, but it was still a difficult technical achievement to make a film like this.
There is a scene towards the beginning where Ralph Belamy, who does a great job as a sinister hood, fires a tommy-gun in a night club and kills a guy. Then, he and his cohorts run out and jump in a car. The rival gang pursues them, firing their own tommy-gun. Finally, the rivals crash. But during the chase scene, we are taken through city streets, with the cars running fast and the machine guns blazing. Granted, this was done much better a year or so later in \"Scarface,\" but this film set the precedent.
The film is also worth seeing for the Clark Gable role. He shows the charm that made him a star. Harlow is also great as the moll. For a film made that long ago-- at the very beginning of the sound era-- it is well worth viewing whenever it appears again on Turner or any other channel.