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What a character!
ecaulfield27 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Back in the days when radio jingle singers harmonized words like ba-na-na to a Latin rhythm, the airwaves broadcast 'tell-all' shows in which a host like Louella Parsons or Walter Winchell would dish about which celebrity or scion had been caught doing what. The host of Okay, America! is Larry Wayne (Lew Ayres). He writes columns by day, with the help of his gal Friday, Barton (Maureen O'Sullivan), and reports sensational happenings by night over the air. He collects stories about the well-to-do from the cigarette girl at a cafe and a homeless drunk. But he tracks them down, too. His appearance at a night club makes wandering husbands wish they'd never stepped out with that pretty young thing and their wives wish it wasn't their turn to be humiliated by the next morning's paper.

A lot of his life appears to be playing Dick Tracy. When he gets a tip-off on the abduction of a local damsel (who happens to be the daughter of the best friend of the President, FDR), he doesn't just divulge what has happened. He personally accosts the criminal gang in their lair all by his lonesome. He decides to act as the go-between of the girl's suffering parents and the gang that wants a pay-off. He will bring the woman back alive. And he does all this without any interference from the police, thank you, nor the police commissioner whom he orders around. Self-confidence does not elude him here, or later when the stakes become life or death. Apparently a daredevil, he likes to use his spare time this way. He is one of those guys who handily knows everyone in town through whom he might secretly communicate to the underworld. And through all this, he continues his daily reports of sexual improprieties as his radio listeners wait for him to produce the lost girl alive.

He reveals the private indiscretions of the very-important because he thinks no one should be made a dupe, as he once was when his fiancé secretly pursued a wealthy married man. He says everyone knew she was playing him, but no one ever told him. They just watched. Larry is so watchful he could work in the sociology department of his favorite police precinct, but he is no silent sideline observer. His romance gone bad has made him a rebel with a cause: to pull the curtain back on the fraud of the upper class. Never was a rebel so suited for his job. He picks up stories as easily as an officer dusting for prints, he fends off gun-toting men who object, and then he publishes.

The brisk pace of the film is helped along by the introduction of a pivotal character, played by a well-known supporting actor, in the last third of the film. Through the placement of this character, we are able to see that, despite the havoc his profession wrecks on people's personal lives, Larry is a man who will take it on the chin to spare someone else. He is such a cool cat as he goes about this high-stakes living, you might say he is above emotion. That is how he manages to give you such a surprise at the film's denouement. He shrinks from nothing. This is one writer/broadcaster who is a character himself.
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"Okay", but could've been better.
A previous IMDb reviewer complained about a poor print of this film. I was able to view a pristine print of "Okay, America!" from the personal collection of film historian William K Everson; that print is now in the New York University archives.

Lew Ayres stars as a brash newspaper columnist and radio broadcaster who's clearly based on Walter Winchell. Ayres starts his radio broadcasts with the catchphrase "Okay, America!" whereas Winchell started his broadcasts with (fake) Morse code and the greeting "Good evening, Mr and Mrs North and South America".

I had to laugh at one unintentionally funny scene in this movie. Ayres, as the surrogate Winchell, visits a nightclub featuring African-American performers, and he chats affectionately with a shapely black dancer whose skimpy costume is obviously inspired by the scanty outfit worn onstage by legendary black performer Josephine Baker. About twenty years after this movie was made, the real Winchell and Baker became bitter enemies -- Winchell famously calling her "Josephoney Baker" in his column -- so I was amused to see their fictional counterparts here on good terms.

The film's plot involves the abduction of a young woman whose father is the President's best friend and a member of his Cabinet. The powerful Production Code of 1930s Hollywood dictated that movies could not depict kidnappers succeeding in their crime, lest some audience member get ideas. A 1930s movie villain might get away with murder, rape and armed robbery, but never kidnapping (at least not in Hollywood).

This is one of those movies in which the virtuous hero is so deeply respected by underworld figures that they'll let him walk out of a deadly situation simply because his word is his bond, even though the crooks have plenty of incentive to kill him.

As the chief villains, Louis Calhern and Edward Arnold are in fine form despite some implausible dialogue. Calhern speaks his lines in his usual cultured accent and impeccable diction, yet his character uses poor grammar ("Larry don't talk"). Arnold's gentleman crimelord reads "Oliver Twist" but seems to consider Fagin the only objectionable character in this novel, suggesting that his lines were written by some scriptwriter who hadn't actually read "Oliver Twist". (That book has a couple of characters even worse than Fagin.)

As the loyal secretary who's secretly in love with her boss Ayres, Maureen O'Sullivan is excellent except for one odd lapse: I don't know whether to blame her, the director or the script. When Ayres and O'Sullivan visit a spooky location, O'Sullivan drops her clutch purse to register shocked emotions, but then she leaves without retrieving it ... thus reminding us that she's an actress handling a wardrobe accessory, instead of a real person with keys and money and I.D. in that purse.

Charles Dow Clark is good in a role that's irrelevant to the story, and Rollo Lloyd acquits himself well in a deeply implausible role. We never do learn how Lloyd's drunken ex-reporter manages to get that big scoop.

The taxicab that recurs throughout this Universal movie (Yellow Cab #79) also shows up in Columbia's film "Washington Merry-Go-Round".

The unnamed President in this movie is apparently meant to be the actual President in office in 1932, Herbert Hoover; a line of dialogue implies that he's Republican. Ayres's scene in the President's office shows the Chief Executive only in silhouette (implausibly standing up while addressing visitors, rather than sitting), intoning his lines in a stentorian voice totally unlike the real Hoover's.

Margaret Lindsay is effective in a tiny role as the kidnap victim who triggers all the fuss. One of my favourite character actors, Alan Dinehart, is here as Ayres's boss, earning a punch on the jaw for his efforts. Dinehart usually played shifty chancers or outright crooks; he's less plausible than usual here as an honest journalist. Russian actor Akim Tamiroff, in his first film role, is apparently already typecast as a Mexican (his character here is cried Pedro).

Too many Hollywood movies feature unbreakable heroes: the leading man gets beaten up in one scene, and in the next reel he's as good as new. That trend stayed in place until 'Chinatown', with Jack Nicholson sporting a bandaged nose for half the movie. I was impressed by a minor detail in "Okay, America!": about halfway through this movie, Ayres gets roughed up, and for the rest of the film he has a cut on his upper lip that's visible only in close-ups. (Or maybe Ayres cut himself in real life while this film was in production.)

There are a lot of good things in 'Okay, America!', but the film's main flaw is the casting of Lew Ayres in the lead role. Ayres was a bland actor: he's decent enough here, but there were several other Hollywood actors of this period (James Cagney, Lee Tracy, Pat O'Brien, James Dunn, Wallace Ford) who could have been brilliant in this role. To achieve such an influential position as a crusading broadcaster and columnist, this movie's hero would have needed to be a human dynamo, yet Ayres's performance never really catches that spark. O'Sullivan is better in a subtler role. Mostly because of Ayres's lacklustre effort, I'll rate this one only 6 out of 10.
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OKAY America (1932) is a "Walter Winchell Theme Movie," one of several worth seeing
DavidAllenUSA31 December 2014
OKAY America (1932) is a "Walter Winchell Theme Movie," one of several worth seeing.

Remember that in 1932, Walter Winchell was VERY important in the show biz world. He was a "wordsmith" of renown and enormous talent, and a showman extraordinaire.....his career went non-stop from the 20's until his death in the 70's. He was always thought important, and for good reason.

The high quality of the actor cast in OKAY America (1932) shows the investment big shots in Hollywood thought worth making in a movie about Walter Winchell.....Lew Ayres, Maureen O'Sullivan, Louis Callhern, others.

This is a quality movie, one of a group all based on the Walter Winchell character and phenomenon.

Over movie history, "Walter Winchell" type "theme movies" (the world of gossip column "tell all" newspaper reporters) were made, most of them well done because the subject (Winchell and his dramatic ways) is inherently dynamic, fast moving, and interesting.

BLESSED EVENT (1932 starring Lee Tracy appeared the same year as OKAY America (1932), and was based on a Broadway play from 1932 which dealt with "the world of Winchell" (without naming him directly).

Winchell himself appeared in WAKE UP AND LIVE (1937 Fox) playing himself "doing his thing" and the movie is wonderful, but also, mysteriously, hard to get, not ranked among the "great" 30's musicals, which it certainly was and is.

SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957)starring Burt Lancaster was an anti-Winchell movie of fame but was clearly a re-affirmation that Winchell was always interesting, always news for decades! Gathering various "Winchell theme movies" is worth doing. These movies are all good!
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OK newspaper crime drama, Not as crispy as others of the same era.
mark.waltz4 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Lew Ayres plays a Walter Winchell type reporter who scoops Broadway scandals and makes several people nervous and disappear just by his very presence in the speak-easies and nightclubs of Manhattan. His secretary Maureen O'Sullivan is obviously in love with him and somewhat jealous of his interest in a kidnapped millionairess (Margaret Lindsay in one of her early roles). In shades of Patricia Hearst some 40 years later, the kidnapped girl is the daughter of the best friend of the President of the United States, and her kidnapping is actually being used to help lessen the sentence of gangster Edward Arnold. The elegant Louis Calhern (who reminded me here of a young Keenan Wynn) is great as a bootlegger who is the liaison between Ayres and Arnold in getting the girl released.

The first quarter of the film shows Ayres at work getting all sorts of scoops in various Manhattan locations. He's not as fast talking or tough as James Dunn, Lee Tracy or Pat O'Brien were in other gangster films, so his impersonation of Walter Winchell is a bit forced for me. I felt he was too young for this part. O'Sullivan does her best with a nothing part, but the final shot of her is unforgettable. I liked the touch of gangster Arnold being a fan of Charles Dickens, and his reference to the character of Fagin in "Oliver Twist" is priceless. An actor named Frederick Burton provides the voice of the President, who is not seen but speaks eloquently of his desire not to cow-tow to the threats of a gangster. As his name is never used, it's apparent that the writers didn't want to give any praise to then US President Herbert Hoover.

While there are many fun moments of typical newspaper office dialog, it's nothing new. However, as the tension builds up at the end, the filmmakers deliver a conclusion that may leave some empty, but for me was a hilarious bit of tragic irony that lead me to my own conclusions of how things actually would end for the characters.
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Fast Paced, Hokey Ending
reginadanooyawkdiva20 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This film is a loosely based version of the life of Walter Winchell.

Lew Ayres plays Larry Wayne. a brash newspaperman who always seems to know what the elite and the underworld are doing. He gets his tips from everyone: from waitresses to coat and hatcheck people to servants. He is disliked by the people who are part of his blind items, but is loved by one person: his loyal secretary Shiela Barton (Maureen O'Sullivan). He also appears on a radio show where his opening line is "Okay, America!" (Hence the film's title.) Larry gets a tip about a kidnapped heiress Ruth Drake (Margaret Lindsay), whose father is in the President's cabinet. The tip leads him to mobster Mileaway Russell (Louis Calhern) who claims to have kidnapped the girl because her father made him unwittingly dump $100,000 worth of bootleg liquor. He demands that Larry get $100,00 from the parents and he will release the girl the next day at midnight. Larry announces in his paper that the girl will be released and Mileaway sends some of her clothes as proof that she is with him. Midnight comes and goes and the girl is not released. Lary then confronts Mileaway, who tells him that he himself does not have the girl, but his boss does. He leads him to his boss, Duke Morgan,(a surprisingly slim Edward Arnold, in his first talking role.) who is wanted by the government for racketeering.

Morgan is well read (he can quote Dickens and is seen reading Oliver Twist)and refined. He tells Larry that he will release Ruth if he can get the President to agree to let him surrender and do two years in jail.

Larry goes to Mr. Drake and informs him of what Morgan says. He says that he will not ask the president for that favor, whatever the cost, as that would be giving into the mob. His wife however insists on going to beg for her daughter's life. The three of them meet with the president and he tells them that he will not do it.

Larry goes back to Morgan and lies, saying that the President agreed to his terms. Morgan lets Ruth go and throws a party, thinking that he got one over on the President and the Government. Once Larry knows Ruth is safe, he tells Morgan that he lied and kills him.

Larry knows that his days are numbered based on what he did and says goodbye to Sheila. He then goes to do his final radio show before Mileaway's gang does him in live on the air.

The movie moved fast and I enjoyed seeing Arnold in his first talking role (even though his screen time was brief.) I was disappointed in the ending because it just seem too contrived and silly.

You'll probably never see this one on TV, as NBC/Universal owns the rights to this and they seem contented in letting all of the old Paramount Universal films rot in some storage vault, rather than let people enjoy them. I wish I could see this again, as the copy I saw was horrible. Sadly, I'll have to make do with my bad copy that looks like it was videocammed off a TV.
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