Nick Venizelos, an immigrant Greek barber, has an uncommon affinity for poker and other sorts of wagering and a group of his friends bankroll him in a big game, where his weakness for pretty blondes is taken advantage of by sleazy operator Sleepy Sam who cleans him out in a rigged game. Nick accepts help from his buddy Jack as they turn the tables on the grifters, but triumph soon changes to tragedy.
Edward G. Robinson ... Nick 'The Barber' Venizelos
James Cagney ... Jack
Margaret Livingston ... Irene Graham
Ralf Harolde ... Sleepy Sam, earlier mistaken for Hickory Short
Noel Francis ... Marie (Sleepy Sam's girl)
Evalyn Knapp ... District Attorney's girl
Maurice Black ... Greek barber
Billy House ... Irontown salesman-gambler (as William House)
Paul Porcasi ... Alexander Amenoppopolus
Gladys Lloyd ... Second cigar stand clerk
Polly Walters ... Lola (manicurist)
Two very famous little guys playing cocky guys - Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney; who could ask for anything more? Well, maybe a little more Cagney, as he is just a supporting player here, but overall I had no complaints watching this 1931 film.
Robinson was great in the lead as "Nick the Barber," (full name "Nick Venizelos.") Cagney is "Jack," an old friend who is employed by Nick. The Greek is a barber, but he's really a full-time gambler or evolves into that role quickly during this story. He goes from small-town hick to big city boss but the road is bumpy along the way. He gets taken by the big crook in town twice, gets hustled by a couple of blondes (Nick's real weakness) but overcomes all of them to be gambling czar.
After Nick's successful jaunts at revenge are completed, the last third of the film is devoted to the city's district attorney trying to get some goods on Nick and put him away and get him out of his city.
This movie, as expected considering the year it was made, is very dated but another of those early '30s films that has a lot of snap, crackle and pop to it. The dialog is crisp and edgy with the expressions of the day and everybody is just nasty enough to make them all interesting characters.
Robinson, as in "Little Caesar," is super in here, much like the cocky gangster roles Cagney also would play in the same period ("The Public Enemy," "Lady Killer," etc.).
The blondes all look similar with the short curly hair of the period and the sexism, racism and other "isms" are all on display here in this fun "gangster movie." The ending was odd but that, too, was the mark of these Pre-Code films which certainly were different.
Now that it's out on DVD, check this film out if you're a fan of the early crime genre, or a fan of Robinson's. You won't be disappointed.
This is not exactly the sort of film you'd expect from Edward G. Robinson in 1931. While he was well-known for his gangster roles, this character isn't a saint by any stretch, but he's far from vicious or deadly like "Little Caesar". In addition, this early film is the only film that ever paired him with Jimmy Cagney. Cagney, at this point, was the lesser star and has a rather small role in the film as Robinson's right-hand man. The breakout film, THE PUBLIC ENEMY, was released just before SMART MONEY and at the point of making this second film, the studio didn't know that he was now a mega-star.
Robinson is a barber with an uncanny ability to gamble and win. Eventually, he and his friends pool their money and send him to "the big city" and even though he at first is bankrupted, he eventually becomes the biggest and most famous gambler around the country. The only problems are that he's a lousy judge of women AND the District Attorney is out to get him no matter what it takes! The film is pretty well written and interesting--not the usual gangster stuff. Plus, there are a few neat scenes that took place since the film was created before the strict Production Code was created--so you get to see Eddie kick a woman in the rear as well as have another lady try to offer him sex to pay off her debt to him! Pretty risqué here and there, but in general this isn't really that violent or salacious a film. Just a good drama with some nice twists and decent acting.
PS--When you watch the film, look for a brief cameo by Boris Karloff. He does have a few speaking lines, but he has a rather odd accent--a Brit trying to sound like an American mug.
The only film ever to star both Edward G and Jimmy Cagney together. Made in 1931 during the Warner Bros heyday of gangster blood and guts, it represents a slight departure for them both.
Eddie G plays a small town gambler - a big fish in a little pond so to speak - with big ideas. His friends put a 10K poke together and send him off to the city to try his luck with the big boys. He is soon sucked into a crooked game by a sexy blonde at the hotel cigar counter. The scam artists soon take him to the cleaners. He is then humiliated by the sexy blonde and Sleepy Sam, played with delicious menace by Ralf Harolde.
He is joined by his pal Jimmy Cagney, and they put together another grubstake. This time, they outcon the cons, humiliate the blonde and he becomes the biggest gambler in town. It becomes clear throughout the movie, that Eddie is learning on the job, but his one very big blind spot is his attraction to blondes. Gee, I can't understand it - a short, dark, rather unattractive guy falling for some of the sexiest females on celluloid.
Well, the results are predictable,though I have to admit, the final blonde was a genuine surprise. It was the process that was interesting.
The pairing of Robinson and Cagney was a masterpiece. They played off each other like dueling banjos. It is too bad that they both got so big they couldn't fit on the same screen together again.
You might expect the only screen pairing of Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney to be a hard edged gangster drama on the order of Robinson's own "Little Caesar" or Cagney's "Public Enemy". In fact, "Smart Money" isn't a gangster flick per se, though it has it's seamy under world characters like Sleepy Sam (Ralf Harolde) and Hickory Short. Robinson even has a colorful handle of his own - Nick the Barber. You would think he got the name from cutting the throats of his victims, but he's actually a barber by profession, and a mighty lucky one at that. When his buddy Jack (Cagney) comes up with the idea to stake him for ten grand to go big time, Nick sees it as an opportunity to rise above his meager Irontown surroundings.
That's where the story gets a little sloppy for my taste. After Nick gets hustled in 'The City', there are no repercussions over the lost grubstake back in Irontown. Word of his embarrassing loss doesn't seem to faze a new group of financial backers who raise another fifty thousand dollars, which he uses to track down Sleepy Sam in 'Another City' for revenge. I got a bit of a kick out of that actually, why not just call 'Another City' New York, since 'Walter Winchell on Broadway' headed one of his columns on the fast rising card sharp Nick the Barber. Which brings up another question - how would the results from a series of private card games ever make it into the newspaper?
Robinson gets to play against a number of pretty blonds in the picture as he fancies himself a ladies man, but boy, the lines they came up with in the 1930's were something else. How about his come on to Marie early in the story - "Say you're a cute little trick"! There's also the blatant racism of the era; when Nick tears a bill in half for the black porter on the train, he states that the other half would be "at the other end of the line, if you're a good boy".
Back to Robinson and Cagney together in this film. I almost hate to say it, but Cagney's character was a bit swishy in the story, getting touchy feely with Nick more than once. Any doubt of the homosexual subtext to their relationship is put to rest near the end of the story when they argue over Irene (Evalyn Knapp) staying at Nick's apartment. When Jack demands to know 'how long is this gonna last?', Nick replies "She'll be gone in a couple of days, and then you can be my sweetheart again dearie". Do you know how many times I had to play that over to be sure I heard it right?
The one thing that's kind of intriguing if you've seen some of Cagney's very first films, he had a commanding presence in those pictures even when second billed or in a bit part. Here it looks like he might have been asked to tone it down a bit in deference to his co-star. Not to say he was laid back, considering my comments above, but it didn't look like he was willing to upstage Robinson. It's a little surprising that the two actors worked only this one time together, considering they crossed paths with other Warner Brothers contract players numerous times, like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Joan Blondell to name just a few.