Fritz Lang is famous for a lot of things – his silent film, Metropolis; his contributions to film noir; his serial killer drama, M. One genre he’s not associated with? Musicals. For that reason, most of his fans probably won’t see the musical number that opens Lang’s You and Me coming.
It’s not just that the song is unusual for Lang, though, but that it’s not necessarily an obvious choice for a film that deals with how difficult it can be to find work with a criminal record, and how easy it can be to fall back into old ways and crowds.
You and Me doesn’t stop at being a musical-gangster film either. It’s also a love story, and a genuinely romantic one to start. Helen (Sylvia Sidney) and Joe (George Raft) both work at the same department store, but what they don’t realize is that many of the employees there are formerly convicted felons. Helen knows Joe spent time in jail because he told her so. She didn’t tell him that she served time as well.
It’s hard to know whether that’s a spoiler or not, because while, in retrospect, it should’ve been obvious, I didn’t immediately put the clues together myself (or I did put them together but came to the conclusion that Helen was an alcoholic, not that she couldn’t drink because she was on parole).
Interestingly, though, the trailer for the film (which is included on Kino’s release) completely focuses on Helen’s rap and ignores Joe’s, which I guess comes down to the casting of George Raft. Maybe whoever edited the trailer thought it was implied that Raft was a criminal, given how often he played gangsters?
Raft’s performance in this movie is definitely on the heavy-handed side. He’s actually convincing at playing both sides of Joe’s character — Joe the gangster and Joe the romantic. The lack of hesitation by which Joe throws his luggage out the bus window when he realizes Helen wants to be with him is exactly how excited you want your significant other to be at the prospect of marriage. The trouble comes when Raft tries to bridge the two. It’s more like Jekyll and Hyde than one person, and it’s not that the beats, as written by Virginia Van Upp, aren’t believable but that Raft doesn’t sell the transition. The moment Joe starts to show signs of jealousy, it’s over. A subtler performer could’ve played these moments more lightly, but Raft comes in like a hammer.
As for the musical numbers, as much as they may seem out of place at first, there’s no denying Lang does some interesting stuff with them. It’s not unusual, for example, for films from the ’30s to feature torch singers, but usually those scenes are of the singer (in this case, Carol Paige) performing. Lang, instead, makes the scene about the lyrics she’s singing and how Joe and Helen project their feelings onto the song, essentially interrupting the film for a music video.
The opening number still feels alienating to me, but at least film critic and author Simon Abrams made me realize how it all ties back at the end, for a full circle moment. Abrams provides the commentary on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray and the research he put into it shows (especially since Abrams always makes a point of citing the books he read so listeners can find them). Starting with how Lang was inspired by Bertolt Brecht, Abrams also makes observations about the differences between Helen’s landlady, Mrs. Levine (Vera Gordan), and her boss, Mr. Morris (Harry Carey), and goes over one of the songs that was cut from the film. It shouldn’t be novel, but I just appreciated that he spent the last few minutes recommending other films to check out if you enjoyed You and Me or one of its cast members (Sidney being the standout, with her open face and vulnerability).
You and Me is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.
Fritz Lang is famous for a lot of things – his silent film, Metropolis; his contributions to film noir; hisCOMICONRead More