Paul Lukas … Stephen Lucarno
Kay Francis … Alice Morrison
Judith Wood … Madeleine Hunt
William B. Davidson … Magistrate Tom Morrison
Rockliffe Fellowes … Detective-Sergeant Mather
Esther Howard … Josie
Monte Carter … Max Miller – Public Defender
Juliette Compton … Ambassador’s Wife
G. Pat Collins … Pete – Detective
Phil Tead … Tony – Waiter
Davison Clark … Doctor
Tom Wilson … Night Court Attendant
James Durkin … Second Magistrate
William Arnold … Prosecutor
Directed by John Cromwell.
Story by Oliver H.P. Garrett.
Original Music by Rudolph G. Kopp & Ralph Rainger.
Sound by E.C. Sullivan.
Camera by Charles Land & Robert Pittack & Franklin Titius.
Still Photography by Ray Jones.
Released June 5, 1931.
A Paramount Picture.
The Vice Squad paired actress Kay Francis and director John Cromwell again. The combination had collaborated for an earlier release titled Scandal Sheet, and worked again many years later on In Name Only (1939), which would provide Francis a much needed comeback after a major falling out with Warner Bros.
But that was all in the future. At the time The Vice Squad was in production, Francis was still ranking among the undistinguished featured players on the Paramount lot. She had arrived at their Hollywood location in the spring of 1929 after completing her first two movies in New York City. While Hollywood and the moviegoers in the dark theaters had grown to appreciate Francis’ unique beauty and personality, her employer seemed to be unsure about her talents.
Paramount clearly had lost interest in Francis early on, despite public response to her minor assignments in mediocre films. The fan magazines had picked up on her, and by June of 1931, when The Vice Squad was released, Francis was well covered in the press.
Fay Wray and Lilyan Tashman were considered for the role which ended up going to Francis here. Still, a lot of the attention in The Vice Squad went to Paul Lukas, the film’s real star, and Judith Wood.
Of Francis’ performance, Variety reported that “she stands up as always.”
From The Vice Squad, in which she was briefly shown, Kay Francis went on to star in Transgression (1931). The movie would team her with Ricardo Cortez, who she would work with more notably once she transitioned to her new studio, Warner Bros., when she became a top notch star in her own right.
By Mordaunt Hall. Published June 6, 1931 in the New York Times.
The first of the pictures in which Hollywood turns to crooked detectives and a stool pigeon for a story is now on view at the Paramount. It bears the title of “The Vice Squad” and although there is no gainsaying that an element of interest courses through its stream of scenes, several pivotal incidents are far from convincing.
It is another case where fiction is stranger than truth, for the stool pigeon in this film is Stephen Locarno, who, be it known, at the opening of the production is the military attaché to the embassy of an unnamed government. Lucarno and a woman are surprised by a detective who demands to know why their car lights are not turned on. He makes slanderous accusations and asks for their names. While Lucarno is out of the car, the woman, frightened by the suggestion of scandal, steps on the gas, drives over the detective, who is killed instantly, and speeds away.
Another sleuth drives up and finding Lucarno standing by the dead man asks for details of the killing, and when Lucarno refuses to give the name of his companion in the car, the minion of the law threatens the military attaché with arrest on a homicide charge. Subsequently, the policeman agrees to report the killing of the detective as a hit-and-run case, provided Lucarno becomes his stool pigeon in preying upon unsuspecting women.
Lucarno becomes deeply involved in many cases in which the unfortunate women are sent to prison, but he is not called as a witness in court. It seems rather surprising that, in view of the fact that the detective, one named Sergeant Mather, is himself guilty in withholding information from justice, Lucarno does not flee from his persecutor. And considering that at least part of the truth has to come out in the end, it might just as well have been told by Lucarno long before.
Lucarno comes to the rescue of a girl named Madeleine Hunt, who is grateful. At the moment he is staggering, through excessive drinking, and might have ended, his life under a subway train had not Madeleine pulled him away from the edge of the platform. She escorts him to his home and nurses him. Mather one day encounters Madeleine and he tries to flirt with her. He asks for her name and address and after she gives it to him he tries to embrace her and she slaps his face. Armed with the address, the stool pigeon is sent to see Madeleine, without knowing that she is the girl who is virtually responsible for his still being in the land of the living.
This narrative is further complicated by the actions of a Magistrate Morrison, whose sister, Alice, is in love with Lucarno, whom she had met while he was a military attaché. She and her brother are eager to help Lucarno when they hear his dismal story.
Mather holds the whip hand over Lucarno until the latter makes a clean breast of his activities with Mather’s squad. What is done about the automobile killing is left up in the air.
Paul Lukas impersonates Lucarno with a certain ability. Kay Francis does well as Alice Morrison. William B. Davidson, Rockliffe Fellowes and Helen Johnson give competent performances.
On the Paramount stage are Gilda Gray and Rudy Vallee, who officiate in a contribution known as “Shakin’ the Blues.”
Originally appeared in the July 1931 issue of Photoplay: