This week’s mystery movie was the 1932 Columbia film “Washington Merry-Go-Round,” with Lee Tracy, Constance Cummings, Walter Connolly, Alan Dinehart, Arthur Vinton, Arthur Hoyt, Burton Churchill, Frank Sheridan, Clay Clement and Clarence Muse.
Screenplay by Jo Swerling, story by Maxwell Anderson, technical advisor Eugene Thackeray, photography by Ted Tetzlaff and Ira Morgan, edited by Richard Cahoon.
Directed by James Cruze.
“Washington Merry-Go-Round” has never been commercially released on VHS or DVD, but is available on the gray market. It last aired on TCM in 2013.
I rarely use topical films (aside from “The Ghost Breakers” for Halloween last week), but I thought “Washington Merry-Go-Round” would be an interesting and timely choice as it was made in the depths of the Depression and deals with the Bonus Marchers, whom Lee Tracy, as a newly elected congressman, tells to go back home. “Merry-Go-Round” is the standard political story of a zealous newcomer who wants to clean up the mess in Washington and gets a bruising, with a few minor differences from the traditional tale. Button Wynett Brown (Lee Tracy), whose ancestor signed the Declaration of Independence, is a World War I veteran who isn’t naive about the world, but is a political neophyte. There are various corrupt individuals, some calculatingly venal – Edward Norton (Alan Dinehart) and Carl Tilden (Wallis Clark) — and others who are unknowingly being bought, such as Sen. Wylie (Walter Connolly).
And, of course, a love interest. In this case Wylie’s granddaughter, Alice (Constance Cummings), who knows her way around the halls of power, yet remains uncorrupted and is the voice of reason and practicality in the film. There are two suicides and a murder in the film, which may be why it has never been released commercially.
An excellent drama! Because of its timeliness in dealing with Washington politics it should be enjoyed by all types of audiences. It is a preachment against the “invisible” government, men who, through their influence, are largely responsible for the graft in the government. It does not condemn the men in office, yet in a way it shows them to be selfish, each one working for his own interests and forgetting the interests of the masses. Lee Tracy, as the crusading congressman who comes to Washington to clean it up, is convincing and arouses sympathy for the character he impersonates. The audience is held in suspense throughout. The settings are lavish and the background looks authentic; scenes of Washington have been cleverly worked into the picture.
Mordaunt Hall, writing in the New York Times (Oct. 24, 1932) said:
After acquiring the screen rights to the title only of the widely read book “Washington Merry-Go-Round,” Columbia Pictures Corporation arranged with Maxwell Anderson to write a fiction story of political intrigue in the capital. James Cruze, producer of “The Covered Wagon” and other worthy films, then proceeded to turn the Anderson tale into film form and the result is now on exhibition at the Mayfair.
The picture, “Washington Merry-Go-Round,” is a sturdy piece of work with melodramatic interludes. At times it is somewhat reckless in its dealings, but, allowing for its explosive utterances and its eagerness to win popular favor an an entertainment, it arouses a certain amount of interest.
For Monday, we have two mystery gentlemen.
Update: This is Clarence Muse and John Larkin.
For Tuesday, we have this mystery gentleman and Back of the Head Guy, who will appear Friday.
Update: This is Arthur Hoyt with Lee Tracy as Back of the Head Guy.
We also have this mystery gent.
Update: This is Wallis Clark.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and mystery guest No. 1), Mary Mallory (mystery guest No. 1), Bob Morrissey (mystery guest No. 1), Bob Hansen (mystery guest No. 1), Patrick (mystery guest No. 1), Tucson Barbara (mystery guest No. 1), Mike Hawks (mystery guest No. 1), Earl Boebert (mystery guest No. 1), Thom and Megan (mystery guest No. 1) and Sheila (mystery guest No. 1).
Sylvia: Yes, the first five minutes of the film take place on a train. Otherwise, there’s no train in the mystery movie.
For “Hm Wednesday,” we have disreputable gent No. 1, who looks like John Waters time-traveling back to a Pre-Code film.
Update: This is Sam Godfrey.
This is disreputable gent No. 2. You can tell he’s disreputable by the way he chomps his cigar. Back of the Head Guy will appear Friday.
Update: This is Frank Sheridan and Lee Tracy as Back of the Head Guy.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (mystery movie, Monday’s mystery Pullman porter and Tuesday’s mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (Monday’s mystery Pullman porter and Tuesday’s mystery guests), Mike Hawks (mystery movie and Tuesday’s mystery guests), Sheila (mystery movie, Monday’s mystery Pullman Porter and Tuesday’s mystery guests) and Earl Boebert (mystery movie, Tuesday’s mystery personal secretary).
For “Aha Thursday,” we have these two dapper mystery chaps playing a friendly game of chance.
Update: This is Alan Dinehart, left, and Clay Clement.
And we have this somewhat mysterious fellow who is having a good run with Lady Luck.
Update: This is Walter Connolly.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Wednesday’s disreputable gent No. 2 and Back of the Head Guy), Howard Mandelbaum (Wednesday’s disreputable gent No. 2) and Mike Hawks (Monday’s mystery Pullman porter, Wednesday’s mysterious disreputable gent No. 2 and Back of the Head Guy).
For Friday, we have our mystery leading lady with Back of the Head Guy.
Update: This is Constance Cummings with Lee Tracy as our perennial Back of the Head Guy.
And finally, after being Back of the Head Guy all week, here’s our mystery leading man. And a couple of guys in newsboy caps.
Update: And finally, Lee Tracy with some Bonus Marchers in newsboy caps.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Thursday’s dapper gent No. 1 and poker-winning senator), Benito (Thursday’s poker-winning senator), Blackwing Jenny (mystery movie, this week’s Back of the Head Guy and Thursday’s poker-winning senator), Mike Hawks (Thursday’s dapper gents Nos. 1 and 2, poker-winning senator), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s dapper gent No. 1 and poker-winning senator), Dan Nather (mystery movie, Monday’s mystery guests, Tuesday’s mystery secretary and Back of the Head Guy, and right guy/wrong role, Wednesday’s disreputable gent No. 2, Thursday’s dapper gent No. 1 and poker-winning senator) and Anne Papineau (Thursday’s disreputable gent No. 1).