Alice White, Picture Snatcher

Last night I watched Picture Snatcher (1933), a Warner Brothers-First National pre-Code programmer starring James Cagney. It's about an ex-con who becomes a photographer for a tabloid paper. Interestingly, Cagney's character sneaks a camera into Sing Sing Prison and snaps a picture of a woman being executed in the electric chair. This is based on an actual 1928 incident in which photographer Tom Howard, using a camera strapped to his leg, secretly snatched a picture of the execution of murderess Ruth Snyder. The famous photo appeared on the front page of the New York Daily News. The film gives brief lip service to the actual ugliness of electrocution as a mode of capital punishment and the morality of publishing such a picture.

Picture Snatcher has all the Warner players, rapid-fire dialogue, a frantic pace, and Alice White. She is not the good-girl love-interest. She is the naughty girl. Alice White (1904-1983) herself was a bit of a naughty girl, starting as a secretary and script girl for Charlie Chaplin and Josef von Sternberg. And she got around...sex scandals, divorces, being named "the other woman," and that sort of thing. When her career tanked, she went back to being a secretary. But, in Picture Snatcher, Alice White snatches the picture away from good-girl Patricia Ellis. Alice White also appeared in The Satin Woman (1927), Lingerie (1928), Naughty Baby (1928), Hot Stuff (1929), and The Naughty Flirt (1931), which are promising titles. In Picture Snatcher, she manhandles Cagney. He pushes her around. She gives as good as she gets, but he hits harder. Their wrestling matches would never have passed the censors a year later. The DVD commentary by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta is entertaining, informative, and not overly serious.

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