Quick Millions. 1931. USA. Directed by Rowland Brown. With Spencer Tracy, Marguerite Churchill, Sally Eilers, Bob Burns. 70 min.
The standard histories of the gangster film were mostly written without access to Fox Film’s extensive contributions to the genre, from Raoul Walsh’s 1915 Regeneration. This remarkable feature from 1931—one of only four directed by the temperamental Rowland Brown, a screenwriter rumored to have underworld connections of his own—dismisses the romantic/tragic bent of the Warner Bros. gangster films in favor of a strikingly modern, nonjudgmental perspective, portraying the rise of Danny Raymond (Spencer Tracy) from truck driver to mob boss in a series of blunt, staccato scenes. The abrupt ending, free from any hint of moralism, is still a stunner. The film’s failure at the box office convinced Fox executives that their new star, Tracy, was turning out to be a poor investment; today his performance seems as clean and cold as ice water. New 4K restoration from nitrate elements held by MoMA, funded by Twentieth Century Fox