Notorious as the movie that gangster John Dillinger attended on the night he was killed, Manhattan Melodrama has weathered the years as one of MGM's finest examples of pure storytelling. The pageant-like story begins in 1904, when the excursion steamer "General Slocum" blows up and burns in the East River. Two young boys are orphaned by the disaster. They are adopted by a kindly Jewish businessman (Harry Green) who has lost his own children. Years later, when he is killed during a anarchist rally, the boys are separated once more. They grow up to be straight-arrow attorney Jim Wade (William Powell) and big-time gambler Blackie Gallagher (Clark Gable). Though the two men still like and respect one another, they are now on opposite sides of the legal fence. The professional rivalry becomes personal when Jim marries Blackie's ex-mistress Eleanor (Myrna Loy). The typically stellar MGM supporting cast includes Nat Pendleton as Blackie's faithful stooge, Isabel Jewell as his addled girlfriend, Mickey Rooney as the younger Blackie (a marvelous piece of mimicry here), and blonde singer Shirley Ross, here appearing in blackface in a Harlem nightclub sequence, singing a new Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart tune that would later gain popularity (with different lyrics) as "Blue Moon."
by Hal Erickson synopsis