You and Me (1938)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Comedy, Romantic Drama  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - USA  |  
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You and Me combines elements of the musical, romantic comedy, and crime film genres in a bizarre experiment that left audiences and critics at the time baffled. Not surprisingly, it was a spectacular failure at the box office and remains one of Fritz Lang's most ignored films. Neither a misunderstood masterpiece nor a misguided mess, this unclassifiable oddity comes across today as a thoroughly enjoyable, undeniably weird film made all the more charming by its eccentricities. It begins in a department store, with a montage of consumer items, cash registers, and money changing hands accompanied on the soundtrack by a Brechtian songspiel on the theme of capitalist exchange called "You Can Not Get Something for Nothing." The department store, it turns out, is staffed entirely by ex-cons who are now on the straight-and-narrow. Star George Raft -- well-known at the time for his gangster roles -- is first seen extolling the qualities of a "racket" he's trying to sell somebody on. The camera pulls back to reveal that he's a salesman in the sporting goods department, and the racket pushing is of the tennis variety. Raft's Joe discovers, just as he's about to quit his job and move to California, that he's in love with co-worker Helen (Sylvia Sidney), and they impulsively get married on the night that he's supposed to leave. Helen, however, is still on parole, and therefore forbidden to marry. Her attempts to keep both her secret from Joe and her marriage secret from her parole officer eventually sends Joe into a rage and back to his prison buddies (and fellow department store workers) who develop a scheme to rob their place of employment. Their plan is hatched during one of the film's strangest scenes, which involves a spontaneous rhythmic chant by the group that leads into a surreal flashback of the gang's prison days. It plays just like a musical number -- only without the music. You and Me is by far Lang's quirkiest movie. Besides the almost-musical numbers, it also includes a mathematical demonstration by Helen, complete with blackboard and chalk, explaining why crime doesn't pay. It's light touch makes it stand out in Lang's normally doom-laden oeuvre, and probably accounts for its often being dismissed as a misstep in his career. Like a lot of Hollywood movies that defy easy genre categorization, it tends to fall through the cracks. But Raft and Sidney's charming, droll performances, and the sheer good-natured weirdness of it all make it more than a mere curiosity.