For the first half of The Nuisance, Lee Tracy's whirlwind performance as J. Phineas Stevens, a fierce, grasping personal injury lawyer, drives the movie along like a tornado sweeping across the screen -- his central character is an amoral, greedy, at times cruel (and unknowingly so) force of corruption that one still can't help but admire for his audacity and charisma. And Jack Conway's smooth direction and the lean, knowingly cynical script and story (the work of Howard Emmet Rogers, Sam and Bella Spewack, and Chandler Sprague) give Tracy a wonderfully clear canvas to work across for the brisk first 40 minutes. And then, suddenly, the movie shifts gears into something more serious, as the deceptions by all concerned lead to the death of a key character, an event that forces Tracy's shyster lawyer reveals his true self, and how he got to be the devious, grasping figure he's become. But having established that new element -- and very convincingly so -- rather than pulling back on the comedy or the rapid-fire plot developments and pacing, The Nuisance goes right on at the same clip in the second half, just as zany and breathless as the first. The difference in the second half is that the characters all have motivations that make the action resonate even more strongly, along with the romance and the internal conflicts driving the central character. This is all a very tall order for an 83 minute comedy to fill, but The Nuisance does it, mostly by virtue of Tracy's energy and surprising range, with some excellent support by Madge Evans, Frank Morgan, John Miljan, and, in a mercilessly scene-stealing supporting role, Charles Butterworth.
by Bruce Eder review