Puff Rogers (Wynne Gibson) and Slag Bailey (George Bancroft) stake broken-down pug Buzz Kinney (John Wayne) to a meal in a scene from Lady and Gent.
The appeal of a good boxing drama is not new to modern cinema (Raging Bull, the Rocky franchise), but was popular even in Depression-era Hollywood. Directors loved the possibilities of glory and defeat, the gladitorial-like battles, the cathartic violence, and the picturesque characters who seem always to loom in the shadows of the ring. This, then, is the setting for Lady and Gent (1932), a workmanlike effort starring George Bancroft as Slag Bailey, a less-than-game prizefighter who prefers late-nights at the clubs over early mornings at the gym. Paired by his manager Pin Streaver (the always spot-on James Gleason) in a match with up-and-comer Buzz Kinney (John Wayne, in an uncharacteristic role), Bailey gets knocked straight to Palookaville. Buzz bumps into Slag later at a club run by Slag’s girl, Puff Rogers (Wynne Gibson), and even helps Slag fight off some gangsters trying to ram their hooch down the throats of Puff’s customers.
A less-than interesting murder is followed by tender moments in which the unmarried Puff and Slag set up housekeeping and adopt the child of a dead friend. Slag continues to box on occasion to earn some extra money. But when his adopted son decides to go into the fight game, Slag puts his foot down—especially since he has recently spoken to Buzz Kinney, who is now punch drunk and down and out.
Lady and Gent is not a perfect film by any means. It covers so many years that it can’t help but to seem disjointed now and again. But the overarching story delivers a solid punch, and the acting is first rate. Duke Wayne fans should be reminded that Wayne is fifth-billed in the credits, is largely absent from the screen, and what little dialogue he has is inconsequential. The movie itself, though, and leading man George Bancroft in particular, have a terrific Depression-era appeal.
Featured actors: George Bancroft, Wynne Gibson, Charles Starrett, James Gleason, John Wayne, Morgan Wallace, Billy Butts, and Joyce Compton
Written by Grover Jones and Williams Slavens McNutt
Directed by Stephen Roberts
Produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date: July 15, 1932