An altruistic department-store owner hires ex-convicts in order to give them a second chance at life. Unfortunately, one of the convicts he hires recruits two of his fellow ex-convicts in a plan to rob the store.
Sylvia Sidney ... Helen Dennis
George Raft ... Joe Dennis
Barton MacLane ... Mickey Bain
Harry Carey ... Jerome Morris
Roscoe Karns ... Cuffy
George E. Stone ... Patsy
Warren Hymer ... Gil Carter aka Gimpy
Robert Cummings ... Jim
Adrian Morris ... Knucks, Hoodlum
Roger Gray ... Bath House
Cecil Cunningham ... Mrs. Mary Morris
Vera Gordon ... Mrs. Abie Levine aka Mama
Egon Brecher ... Abie Levine
Willard Robertson ... J. Dayton, Parole Officer
Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams ... Taxi, Tough Lothario
As a fan of both Sylvia Sidney and Kurt Weill, I have wanted to see this film ever since I read Leonard Maltin's description of it. It is apparently not available for home viewing, so Heaven bless the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which screened 'You and Me' a couple of weeks ago as part of its Kurt Weill centennial celebration (which continues as I write this).
According to an edition of Stagebill that was made available to audiences at the screening, Weill composed 23 music cues for 'You and Me,' but the Paramount brass did not care for his work and used only nine of them. (This was typical of Weill's experience in Hollywood.) That's a genuine tragedy, and there's no question that it does diminish the film. 'You and Me' still rates a 10 in my book, however, for the outstanding performances from the entire cast and its anti-naturalistic approach to gritty, "realist" subject matter.
The line between anti-naturalism and implausibility is a fine one, and the film crosses that line during its last 15 minutes or so. Still, I wonder if audiences in 1938 didn't understand that ending as a joke. They may have been more sophisticated than we are today.
In any case, if you get a chance to see this film, grab it.
You And Me is an interesting experiment which falls way short in execution, but still is an interesting view.
The closest American film I could compare it to is Al Jolson's Hallelujah I'm a Bum which utilized that same sing/talk rhythmic technique in many spots. Rodgers&Hart's efforts were not as butchered as Kurt Weill's were, my guess is that Paramount got cold feet and tried to salvage the film as they saw it by making it more of a typical gangster yarn.
The story involves Harry Carey who as part of his payback to society hires freshly paroled convicts in his department store. The presumption is that he does screen them for employment.
George Raft is one of those ex-convicts hired there and he meets and falls for Sylvia Sidney. She knows about him, but he doesn't know she is also on parole. Other prison pals working for Carey are, George E. Stone, Warren Hymer, Jack Pennick, Robert Cummings and Roscoe Karns.
One very unregenerated crook, Barton MacLane, tries to get the whole crew of them to help knock over the store. What happens is the rest of the plot of the film.
Perhaps You and Me might have been better done elsewhere. I'm thinking of Warner Brothers who specialized in these working class stories. Barton MacLane, George E. Stone, and Warren Hymer certainly all were part of Warner's gangster stable and George Raft moved to Warner Brothers himself a year after You and Me came out. Paramount just didn't go in for stories like these and the results show.
Highlight of the film is Sylvia Sidney giving a lecture in economics about how crime doesn't pay. For heist guys like these when you deduct the expenses of a job, it really doesn't pay. Only the folks at the top really make out.
By the way you might call what Kurt Weill tried to do musically and Fritz Lang brought to the screen as one long rap music video. You and Me may have been way too soon ahead of its time.
Still it's probably worth a look if for no other reason than to see a joint collaborative effort of two expatriates from the Nazi regime, Kurt Weill and Fritz Lang.
What a fascinating little film, on a variety of levels. There is an expressionism that would have made Elmer Rice proud as well as a distinctly European approach. It feels as if it could be either a German product or from much earlier in the '30s when Hollywood was still in an experimental phase of self-discovery. There is nothing quite like it out there.
This is pure Fritz Lang, coupled perfectly with Charles Lang Jr.'s photography, with Kurt Weill's music jumping in abruptly to make you catch your breath. The blend of comedy and drama is smooth.
The plot line is familiar to this cast. A businessman makes a point of hiring parolees at his department store, where some are clearly having trouble adjusting. Joe has abided by the strict demands of his parole and his time is at last up, freeing him to marry Helen. But she has never told him that she too is an ex-con and still has several months of parole to serve. She has to tell lie upon lie to cover up the secret. Meanwhile, his old gang is nipping at him to join up again in another heist scheme.
Not for the last time, the film exposes the difficulties of staying straight, difficulties arising both from the system itself as well as peer pressure.
Some plot points are similar to Pick-up, a George Raft-Sylvia Sidney film of a few years earlier, but this story is much stronger. At this time Raft was in the middle of a five-year era when he was at his best - relaxed and in character, willingly joining in the sometimes unusual proceedings. Sidney is beautifully sympathetic as a criminal, always hoping two wrongs will make a right. What a one-of-a-kind screen presence she was. Her work with Raft always seems like two pals getting together again. That makes the wedding night sequence and the around-the-world honeymoon all the more entertaining.
The rest of the cast, from wonderful Harry Carey to cynical Roscoe Karns, turns in strong, imaginative performances. As odd as some moments might be, everyone is clearly "in on" Lang's vision.
There is a great scene of the gang reminiscing about their prison days that displays that vision full force. This is what the film is all about.
That doesn't fit with what most people think about Fritz Lang. He's generally a tragedian at this point in his career. You and Me is very similar in subject to his previous film, You Only Live Once, about an ex-con who can't get a break. Here, George Raft plays an ex-con working at a department store. Sylvia Sidney is his girlfriend. She also works at the store, and she has a secret: she's an ex-con, too. Raft has a bitter double standard and despises female ex-cons, so Sidney can't tell him the truth.
Near the beginning, the film seems a bit clunky. The opening is kind of goofy, and, it being a Lang film, you might be confused about how you should take it. His other films aren't completely without comedy. Few films refuse to give us at least a couple of laughs along the way, perhaps close to the beginning. But You and Me just keeps getting sillier.
I was finally won over by an extraordinarily stylistic sequence where a mob of criminals recall their days in jail with a musical number. After that enormously entertaining sequence had come and gone, I knew that anything could go. In fact, anything can go and does. The film ends up being one of the most original films ever made. No comedy is like this. You know, I don't want to swear to this, but You and Me is perhaps my favorite Fritz Lang film. I actually haven't seen any masterpiece (i.e., 10/10s) from him, including Metropolis and M. You and Me, like M and Fury, my other two favorites, gets a 9/10.