Monday, February 8, 2016

Myrna Loy, The Public Enemy's Pinup

According to Michael Mann's Public Enemies (opening Wednesday), it was FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) who set the trap that caught notorious bankrobber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). It was starlet Myrna Loy who was the bait. Dillinger had a crush on the sleepy-eyed lovely, whose movie Manhattan Melodrama (1934) tempted the robber out of hiding months before she became a star in The Thin Man films. There are those who would argue that Dillinger's cause of death was the love of Loy. Those interested in the 1930s milieu of Purvis and Dillinger could do worse than take a look at this snappy film about childhood buddies William Powell and Clark Gable who pursue the same dame (Loy, natch) but different careers.

Myrna Loy, The Public Enemy's Pinup

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A Myrna Loy sandwich between the moustachioed Clark Gable and William Powell.
A Myrna Loy sandwich between the moustachioed Clark Gable and William Powell.

According to Michael Mann's Public Enemies (opening Wednesday), it was FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) who set the trap that caught notorious bankrobber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). It was starlet Myrna Loy who was the bait. Dillinger had a crush on the sleepy-eyed lovely, whose movie Manhattan Melodrama (1934) tempted the robber out of hiding months before she became a star in The Thin Man films. There are those who would argue that Dillinger's cause of death was the love of Loy. Those interested in the 1930s milieu of Purvis and Dillinger could do worse than take a look at this snappy film about childhood buddies William Powell and Clark Gable who pursue the same dame (Loy, natch) but different careers.

In the ripping story that established the "opposite sides of the law" motif,  Powell plays the district attorney who prosecutes the lawless Gable. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, who would reunite Loy and Powell for The Thin Man series, the film boasts atmospheric cinematography by the peerless James Wong Howe and is a glorious setting for the sparkling jewel that was Loy. Buoyed by this movie and her notoriety as the Venus flytrap who caught Dillinger, Loy deservedly soared to stardom.

I love Loy in just about everything, from the slinky siren in The Mask of Fu Manchu, to "perfect wife" Nora Charles in The Thin Man films to Cary Grant's teasing spouse in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. But my favorite role of hers is as the cheerful nymphomaniac, second fiddle to Jeanette McDonald in Love Me Tonight (1932). "Could you go for a doctor?" McDonald asks. "And how!" replies Loy with the enthusiastic sexuality that may have appealed to Dillinger. Your favorite Myrna?

Film Critic
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Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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