This breezy mix of romance and crime thriller had three credited writers and as many as five more uncredited scribes on hand to pull its plot together, and not surprisingly there is a lot of plot here and also a lot plot points worth noting. At the center there's the tangled romance between Spencer Tracy's Detective Danny Dolan and waitress Helen Riley (Joan Bennett), which provides a fascinating window on the world of New York City in 1932. Tracy seems to be aiming for a portrayal similar to the persona that James Cagney was perfecting at Warner Bros. during this same period, and it mostly works -- he's convincingly brash and tough, if not as energetic. And taken on those terms, just focusing on the romantic half of the story, Me And My Gal is prime entertainment, even 80 years later.
But there are a brace of subtexts to this picture that are worth noting, as they provide the picture with a lot of its atmosphere, and make it doubly special as a snapshot of an important corner of the world, and the perceptions that audiences brought to the theater in 1932. Me And My Gal depicts a city whose residents are coping with economic misery; this is slice-of-life grit that was not unusual in 1932 but seldom presented with more ease and naturalism under Raoul Walsh's breezy direction. But pressed right up against that dark social-realist layer is another, equally valid topical snapshot of a city that is almost totally oblivious to Prohibition -- a major issue in the election held just a month before this picture opened, Prohibition figures by name in this script, and the attitudes toward it shape much of the action and the dialogue. Groups of drunken revelers walk the city's streets at night, and beer- and liquor-laden parties spill out onto the sidewalk in full view of the police, who mostly have better things to do with their time -- and everyone laments the failed presidential candidacy of Alfred E. Smith (an opponent of Prohibition). Interestingly, the malefactors in this story are a family of hoods from southern Europe (last name Castenega), which is also a statement of the perceived reality about crime in the big city, aimed at a national audience -- the script balances their presence with the tough, mostly Irish cops, and their families and friends, who are depicted as a match for the career criminals of Italian extraction. But accompanying these topical references to the time in which it was made, there are also some downright startling cinematic moments, as in an extended scene that parodies Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude (referred to as "Strange Innertube") and its use of internal monologue. And lest anyone doubt the spirit of the movie, or its willingness to tweak the audience, don't miss the moments in the picture where J. Farrell MacDonald's Pop Riley breaks the fouth wall, looking directly at the camera and inviting us to join the fun and "have a drink."