Scen.: Tod Browning, Garrett Fort. F.: Roy Overbaugh. M.: Milton Carruth. Scgf.: W.R. Schmidt. Mus.: William W. Hedgecock. Int.: Mary Nolan (Connie), Edward G. Robinson (Cobra Collins), Owen Moore (Harry ‘Fingers’ O’Dell), Rockcliffe Fellowes (agente O’Reilly), Delmar Watson (The Kid), Eddie Sturgis (Jake), John George (Humpy). Prod.: Carl Laemmle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. 35mm. D.: 75’. Bn.
Like Lois Weber, Tod Browning had been under contract to the Universal Film Manufacturing Company in the 1910s, when he was frequently assigned to direct the studio’s important early star, Priscilla Dean. After a stint at MGM (where he often collaborated with a fellow Universal alumnus, Lon Chaney), Browning returned to Universal to direct this loose remake of his 1920 Dean vehicle Outside the Law, which features a pre-Little Caesar Edward G. Robinson as a cigar-chomping gangster who muscles in on a bank robbery being planned by an ambitious associate (Owen Moore) and his embittered, affectless moll (Mary Nolan).
The remake gives Browning full range to indulge his taste for the lowest orders of American society – in particular, that peculiar intersection of criminality and show business that is the American traveling carnival. The characters seem to have recently escaped from the sideshow of Freaks: in a brilliant, wordless opening sequence, Moore is introduced performing as a legless automaton in a department store window – a prime example of Browning’s disturbingly erotic obsession with amputation – while Nolan is discovered working as a scantily-clad model in a museum of ‘living paintings’ that is a thinly disguised burlesque show.
Trying to hide out from Robinson, the couple disguise themselves as a pair of newlyweds, moving into a middle-class, ‘straight’ world that both attracts and appalls them. Newly restored in glistening 35mm, Outside the Law is arguably a more personal film for Browning than his next assignment at Universal – Dracula.