(1937), the ninth short in MGM’s Crime Does Not Pay
franchise, would win the studio back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel) …and while the CDNP
folks would garner five additional nominations in that category before the series ended in 1947, I’m not convinced I would have been so willing to hand over a statuette for this entry (1939’s Drunk Driving
, another nominee, is a much better short…and a more deserving winner, IMO, than Warner Brothers’ sappy Sons of Liberty
, which took home the prize that year). The man responsible for the previous CDNP
Oscar winner, The Public Pays
, also wrote the story and screenplay for Money
—John C. Higgins. Oh, and Torture Money
does have this little mash note at the beginning contributed by James Edgar “Two-Gun” Davis (though he signs it without the “Two-Gun”), the L.A. Chief of Police at the time of Money’s
Aww…wasn’t that sweet of him? Before you break out the stationery for an RSVP to accompany your candy and flowers, leave us look at Chief Davis’ entry on Wikipedia
: “Under Davis, the LAPD developed its lasting reputation as an organization that relied on brute force to enforce public order. It also became very publicly entangled in corruption. Members of the LAPD were revealed to have undertaken a campaign of brutal harassment, including the bombings of political reformers who had incurred the wrath of the department and the civic administration.” Bad cop. No donut.
I can’t be 100% on this, but I believe this is the first CDNP
entry in which the narrator identifies himself as “the MGM Crime
Reporter” (he just goes by “the MGM reporter” in previous shorts). He is not, sadly, identified at the [always reliable] IMDb so if you know the actor—operators in the comments section are standing by.
REPORTER: Once again, as the MGM Crime Reporter, it is my privilege to bring you another episode in our “Crime Does Not Pay” series…may I present—Captain Michael Karnahan, chief of the Bunco and Pickpocket detail of the Metropolitan Police Force…
Great Caesar’s Ghost! That’s John Hamilton (nice soup strainer, Johnny!), the veteran character actor fondly remembered as Daily Planet
Editor Perry White on TV’s The Adventures of Superman
…which is why the “Great Caesar’s Ghost” gag will get quite a workout here at TDOY
, since this will not be the last time we see Hamilton portraying faux law enforcement officials (Torture Money
is his CDNP
debut). (I mean, seriously—what is up with this “Metropolitan Police Force” nonsense?)
KARNAHAN: Criminals devote all their time and cleverness to devising new ways of making a living through terrorism and fraud…
Well, really—if you don’t innovate, how are you supposed to stay ahead of the competition?
KARNAHAN: The average citizen stands idly by…shrugs his shoulders…is totally indifferent…”What of it?” he says…”As long as they don’t touch my family or my property it isn’t my problem…they’re not getting anything out of me” …
I was completely unaware the “Me decade” began back in 1936.
KARNAHAN: Don’t fool yourself, my friends…whether your home is robbed or your neighbor’s—you pay for it!
Cap’n Karnahan is referring to “one of the most cruel rackets in America”—insurance fraud—and in showing us “the inner workings,” we are whisked away to a traffic accident involving this unconscious man:
That’s character veteran Murray Alper, whose cinematic resume includes such movies as Seven Keys to Baldpate
(1935) and The Milky Way
(1936)—chances were if there was a cab driver in a movie, it’s even money Murray was playing him—but is best remembered here at Rancho Yesteryear as the truck driver who gives fugitive Bob Cummings an assist in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur
(1942—I love his monologue about his wife’s fondness for new hats and “moon pitchers”). Alper’s character is “Little Davie Barkell,” who’s the “victim” in this phony accident (there’s also a guy who claims to have broken his nose on the taxicab’s meter) engineered by this unscrupulous representative of the legal profession:
Meet Milton Beecher (spelled “Beacher” at the IMDb—but my spelling is confirmed in the short), a shyster who’s having to commit insurance fraud on a phenomenal scale because television hasn’t yet been invented to continually showcase his annoying ads during noon newscasts on WSB-TV. Beecher is portrayed by character great Edwin Maxwell, who will also be a recurring player in the CDNP
series. (Around Rancho Yesteryear, we know Maxwell as “Dr. Egelhoffer” in His Girl Friday
—Edwin’s also in the Ernst Lubitsch-directed Ninotchka
 and The Shop Around the Corner
BEECHER: I think that $5000 for a fractured skull, bad bruises, and a broken arm is little enough, Mr. Carmathy…and a $1000 for the cab passenger who suffered a broken nose…
Milt is doing some good old-fashioned haggling with Alex Carmathy (Jason Robards, Sr.)—claim manager for the Universal Accident Insurance Company. When Carmathy’s counteroffer for damages is rebuffed by Beecher, the insurance man remarks that perhaps this matter would best be settled in court—particularly since “We have a witness who reported that it looked as if the victim threw himself
in front of the cab.” Beecher seems most reluctant to pursue that remedy…and so he revises his earlier offer, which satisfies Carmathy.
CARMATHY: Very well…soon as I get a release from your clients… BEECHER: Oh, that’s all right—I have complete authority to handle everything…
Beecher hands Carmathy a document that Barkell signed granting him power of attorney…which means Beecher is either a most efficient little legal eagle, or there’s something screwy in St. Louis. We find out it’s the latter in a following scene, as we see Miltie counting out a wad of cash:
BEECHER: I always like those Universal Accident Company checks…the bank neverturns them down…here you are, kid—you did a good job…
Beecher hands some money to the cab driver (Roger Moore—not the guy who played James Bond), who starts to protest because he was promised a C-note and he’s only been given fifty bucks. “Fifty’s what you get—take or leave it,” Beecher snarls, threatening him with being fired from the cab company and tossed in the sneezer if he squawks. “Whaddya think of that—he’s got larceny in his soul and he squawks like a sucker,” Milt complains as he hands the Broken Nose Guy his cut. (Evil help is so hard to find these days.) Beecher also ladles out payment to the “witnesses,” of which a female witness remarks “Any time at all, Mr. Beecher.” See—some
employees are grateful for what they get.
One of Beecher’s henchmen, Red (Mel Ruick), asks how “Little Davie” is doing…and Beecher responds that Barkell is still in the hospital. The two of them enter a side room where another goon, Doc (Norman Willis), is praised by his boss for his “work” on Little Davie.
DOC: Well…these “accidents” have to be real… RED: Ah, nobody’ll ever get onto this…too smart a set-up… BEECHER: I know, I know—I wouldn’t be in this racket if I didn’t leave all the exits open…
You’ve seen enough movies to witness that when supervillains start to boast, sooner or later the hero brings about their downfall and sanity returns to the world. In fact, Mr. Carmathy is tattling to Karnahan about his latest experience with attorney Beecher while the bad guys are high-fiving themselves:
CARMATHY: All of Beecher’s cases against us were unbeatable—he’s collected over $100,000 from Universal alone…
KARNAHAN: Well, your investigators and doctors verified the claims, of course… CARMATHY: Yes…here is a chart prepared by the Insurance Index Bureau…
We don’t need to look at no steenkin’ charts to see this Beecher guy is a menace to capitalism—having run this sweet, sweet racket in Salt Lake City, Denver, St. Louis and Chicago—and he must be stopped!
CARMATHY: …and in almost every case, the driver involved had taken out insurance a few days or a week before the accident…Beecher always has plenty of witnesses…yet when his last claim in Salt Lake was denied, he didn’t take it into court…instead, he moved to Denver…he collected many claims there…his last was denied…still, he refused to take it into court…he had several witnesses against us in this taxicab accident…but when I suggested fighting it out in court, he backed down…why?
Could be cowardice. Or that he’s a sh*tty lawyer. It’s all rhetorical, of course, because the District Attorney has taken an interest in all this…and the man who’ll be doing the investigating is Larry Morgan (identified as “Martin” at the…well, you know), played by (Peter) George Lynn (Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo
, Adventures of Captain Marvel
). The write-up for Money
at the IMDb suggests that Lar is some sort of reporter—which is how Leonard Maltin identifies him in his entry in Selected Short Subjects
. I kind of got the impression that Morgan was more of an undercover cop, though Cap’n Karnahan does tell Larry as he heads out “I can guarantee you the full assistance of the police department.” Could he be a Fed? Quien sabe
First step in his investigation—confirming that “Little Davie’s” injuries are real. A Dr. Kelsey (Charles Trowbridge—last seen in Alibi Racket
) confirms that Barkell isn’t “shamming” the company, so Larry asks if it would be possible for him to see Barkell “without him seeing me.” Since they just doped Davie up a few minutes ago, a Nurse Barry (Mary Howard) takes Morgan into Barkell’s room…and Larry removes a drinking glass from the nightstand. A fingerprint check reveals that “Little Davie” is not an individual of particularly sterling character:
In a following scene, Nurse Barry and an orderly bandage up Larry for the purpose of placing him in Barkell’s room so he can spy on him. The doc explains that Mr. Morgan “has been struck by a hit-and-run driver…and knocked unconscious” and that they are to “place no other patients in there.”
LARRY: If my roommate has any questions, why…just shake your head and act serious…and when I give three rings on the call bell, come in with the operating stretcher and wheel me out…
When the orderly gets a little carried away and starts to bandage Morgan’s ears he gets a sharp rebuke: “Don’t cover up my ears—they’re not
unconscious.” (No, but your sense of humor is.)
The playing-possum Morgan is wheeled into Barkell’s room, where Little Davie has been perusing a gossip magazine.
BARKELL: Whatsa matter with the guy?
NURSE: Hit-and-run driver…he’s been unconscious for several days—we had to move him up here from another ward… BARKELL: Unconscious, eh? Tough…
Peek-a-boo! There’s a dissolve, and when Nurse Barry returns to Little Davie’s room he says to her: “You better check that guy—he never moves.” Barry assures Barkell that the “patient” is still breathing, but Davie would like a transfer—“He gives me the creeps.” “Mr. Barkell” is interrupted by visitors—Beecher and his mugs have stopped by—and though his guests are concerned about the bandaged Morgan, Davie assures him he’s out like a match. “Talk to this unconscious guy when he comes to,” Milton tells Barkell, always drumming up bidness in true lawyer-style—“We might make a case out of it.”
BEECHER: Brought you some money, kid… BARKELL: Cashed in already, eh? RED: Sure…he settled out of court… BARKELL: That old fracture of mine sure fooled ‘em again! BEECHER: Shut up—you talk too much…leave a message at my office if you want me…
“Or you can find him at my place,” Doc chimes in as the trio prepare to hit the gift shop. With the departure of Beecher and Company, it looks as if Larry has the goods on those evildoers…and so he rings the call button thrice to signal to Nurse Barry she needs to rescue him with the operating stretcher. But there is still more work to do as the crack medical team liberates Morgan from his bandaged prison.
LARRY: Now I’ve just died on the operating table…tomorrow I’m coming to life as a hospital orderly… (To Barry) Now you hint around to Little Davie that I’m a jailbird…that I have a police record…and that I’ve served time in another state…can you act mysterious about it?
“It’s the role I was born
to play!” The scene shifts to some nice gentlemen enjoying a leisurely game of craps. At least that’s what it looks like at first glance—it’s actually the method that Milton Beecher, Shyster at Law uses to select the individual who will be portraying the “victim” in the firm’s next insurance scam. A luckless Joe rolls “boxcars”…
…and is told by Beecher he’s going to be the next pats…er, hero. This gentleman is played by character veteran Raymond Hatton—previously seen in Desert Death
—but he’s not particularly jazzed about the assignment:
RAYMOND: But, Boss…I gotta…I gotta weak heart…
BEECHER: A weak heart’s better than one that’s stopped altogether…I don’t allow anyone that’s yellow to work for me…come on, boys—take him there…this isn’t the bridge club… RAYMOND (as Doc and Red drag him off): No! On the level…I tell ya, I can’t take it…
His pleas for help are soon cut off by the sound of a sap hitting his skull, and with a dissolve he’s deposited at a street corner by Doc and Red as the car speeds off. But the car is simply making a trip around the block so that it can return with full force (Ray’s looking a little disheveled and covered in contusions).
Beecher’s criminal enterprise hadn’t counted on a lovely little girl who’s wandered into the scenario—carrying a single loaf of bread to take home to her 12 brothers and 11 sisters, no doubt. (Well, it’s MGM—gotta put a little heart into this.) She says to Hatton: “Oh, gee—you’re hurt.” Ray motions for the little sprat to get out of the way…but the driver comes barreling down the street like a bat out of Heck and…
RAYMOND: Look! You hit the kid!
DRIVER: Lie down, you fool!
He lays Hatton out with a haymaker, and then he kneels in front of the car as the camera pans over to slices of bread all over the street. RIP, Little Bread Girl.
The scene shifts to Little Davie’s hospital room, as he interrogates Larry the Orderly as to the whereabouts of his little unconscious bandaged friend. “He kicked off a couple of days ago,” Morgan tells him.
BARKELL: …the nurse was tellin’ me about you…
LARRY: Yeah…what’d she say? BARKELL: Ah, it’s nothin’…don’t worry about it…everybody gets in jams…
Barkell gives him a drag off his cigarette, then asks Larry if he’ll give him a shave later—“I’m gettin’ out of this morgue today.” Nurse Barry interrupts their conversation by telling him the hospital superintendent wants to see him…but he’s really been summoned by a phone call from Cap’n Karnahan.
KARNAHAN: There were three more bad smash-ups last night…the drivers are going to be questioned by the accident investigation bureau…just how much longer do you intend looking them over? LARRY: Till one of that gang shows up…
Larry moseys on down to police headquarters, where he spots Red in another office and identifies him as one of the gang. “He ran down a man and a little girl,” Karnahan informs him. “She’s badly hurt…if she dies, we’ll slap a second-degree murder charge on him.”
But not now, argues Larry—Red must be turned loose lest the rest of the mob get suspicious. Karnahan reluctantly agrees, and Red gets a visit from his attorney:
BEECHER: The kid died this morning… RED: Ah…I figured she’d seen too much…maybe she’d squawk… BEECHER: Well, forget it…she’s dead…
“F*ck it, Dude—let’s go bowling…”
BEECHER: …I’m handling the case for her mother, and we’re going to collect plentyon it… RED: Yeah, but what about me? I’m not takin’ any manslaughter rap… BEECHER: You won’t…you won’t…the coroner’s inquest will clear you…now, remember…the police think it was just an ordinary accident…and I’m here to get your deposition on how it happened…
I’m no legal expert…but that sounds a little like conflict of interest to me. Beecher is shrewd enough to operate his insurance racket outside the confines of his legitimate office. Larry wants to learn the location of his lair, and he explains to Karnahan that he’s going to cozy up to Little Davie (he knows Barkell hangs out in a pool hall) and see if he can infiltrate Beecher’s mob. He waves off Karnahan’s insistence on having one of his men “shadow” Larry, but of course cops are by their nature a little slow on the uptake:
KARNAHAN: Well…Little Davie…workin’ the ol’ pickpocket gag with a bandaged arm, eh?
BARKELL: It’s busted…on the level…I just came from the hospital… (Pointing to Larry) Ask this guy! LARRY: That’s right…copper…I work in the same hospital…
Okay, technically that’s a teensy fib—since Larry has moved on, arranging to have himself “fired” to join the Beecher outfit.
KARNAHAN: Okay…I just want you to keep straight, Little Davie… (He leaves) BARKELL: How did you know he was a flatfoot? LARRY: Eh, I can smell ‘em a mile off…
“It’s the tantalizing aroma of…bacon…”
BARKELL: Good cop…that guy… LARRY: Yeah, all the good cops are in coffins…
Larry’s decidedly anti-police stance is later relayed by Little Davie to Beecher; Barkell points Morgan out as the two men stroll past the pool hall. Learning that “he has a police record and he hates cops,” Beecher tells his stooge to “send him around.”
Beecher’s mob gathers around for another round of “craps” as Little Davie explains to Larry that they roll to see who the next “hero” will be. We witness a bit of chicanery as Red switches the dice on Larry…
…and he rolls the dreaded “boxcars”. Larry is told to “come into the office,” and then there is a brief cutaway to Karnahan at headquarters, where he worries himself that Morgan hasn’t reported back in. Back in Beecher’s hideout, he explains to Larry and a woman (Bernadene Hayes) identified at the IMDb as “Debbie” that the pair of them will be the accident victims—and that there’s no fear of really getting plowed down, because the driver “can stop on a dime and still make change.” Debbie decides she wants out—so Beecher threatens her into compliance by telling her he’ll “wire the Nevada police—you know they’re very anxious to find Daisy.” (Whether “Daisy” is an alias used by Debbie or maybe her child goes unexplained.)
BEECHER (to Larry): You’re not turnin’ yellow, too—are you?
LARRY: No…I need the dough too bad…
Maybe this guy really is
a reporter. Beecher will have a couple of his men planted as witnesses, and all Larry and Debbie will have to do is be ambulanced to the hospital—he’ll take care of the rest. Beecher has the two sign the power of attorney statements, and after doing so Debbie asks “Well—what time should I come back?”
“You’re not leaving
,” Beecher answers her. “Go into that room—both of you.” Once inside, Debbie cries out in terror…for it’s in Doc’s “office” that we see some of the interesting devices he utilizes to simulate injuries:
|This goon observes: "This makes a great bruisin' machine!"|
In the other room, Little Davie turns on the radio and cranks the volume to drown out the expected screams while Doc orders Debbie over to a table to get “a few abrasions” with the help of a cheese grater. We got a taste of this in the previously reviewed Accidents Will Happen
(1939) when the insurance scammers had to break our pal Clinton Rosemond’s arm to insure reality…but this is some pretty cold-blooded stuff for a two-reel short.
When the job is done, Milton is once again filled with admiration for Doc’s “good night’s work.” “Anything to help a couple of kids get along,” he replies modestly. “Remember on this accident—we take two ways: we take the city for big damages, and we take the insurance company,” his boss reminds him.
“That’s what the city gets for being careless,” Doc editorializes. The plan is to stage an accident near Sunrise and Garland, where the unnamed metropolis has dug up some of the street—the bad guys will wreck an automobile at the site, and then Larry and Debbie will place themselves in the excavation, crying “Lawsuit!” But despite his injuries (he looks like those gorillas broke his arm), Larry manages to get to a telephone he spotted earlier and contact Karnahan (after subduing Red with a knock to the noggin), who’s ready to swoop in with some men before the “accident” can commence. (I liked the presence of men with cameras, taking pictures with flash bulbs popping.) Karnahan takes charge of rounding up the rest of the mob in Beecher’s hangout—as a barely conscious Red is dragged out, he barks at the henchman “We want you for murder
KARNAHAN: Larry Morgan’s testimony secured an all-around conviction…the sentences of this mob totaled more than 200 years…consider that—if you think crime pays!
Okay, take a victory lap, Michael me boyo—I guess you earned it. Next time: It May Happen to You
(1937)—with that “celebrated actor,” J. Carrol Naish! G’bye now!