Soon, Dutch's goons are strong-arming local druggists to buy their product, just like the good ol' days. But perhaps realizing such a conceit would eventually make him the laughingstock of his fellow criminals, Dutch soon orders Jimmy to whip up cosmetic knock-offs. Naturally, the lipstick-happy dames can't tell the difference. Then, instead of making the logical move to, say, pseudo-Brioschi, Dutch decides to go into the medical-supply business, blackmailing Jimmy into creating bogus antiseptics and, eventually, digitalis -- a dose of which causes Jimmy's unsuspecting wife, Norma, to suffer a miscarriage. The moral of the story: toothpaste is a gateway drug.
|She's a good actress, but not good enough|
for those Bette Davis eyes to hide her contempt.
|"...And next week I want you to make a vat of|
interferon, or else!"
|"How can I be anti-|
Semitic if I'm Jewish?"
One gag probably baffles most contemporary viewers. A mousy middle-aged guy enters Jimmy's store and asks for a druggist. When Bette Davis informs him that she's the druggist, the guy gulps and, thinking fast, asks for a bottle of aspirin. Davis smirks knowingly. Audiences in 1934 would have immediately caught the unspoken subtext: the guy had come in for condoms but didn't want to ask a woman for them. Now you can find them at any bodega next to the Milk Duds. I'm not certain we've made progress.
|"And I ain't talkin' soda!"|
Most unexpected of all is a line of dialogue spoken by the great Allen Jenkins. When informed that the gang is moving from beer to drugs -- pharmaceuticals, that is -- Jenkins misunderstands. "Not me," he replies. "I got a brother doing twenty years for going into the drug business and all they found on him was two decks of coke." There's nothing better than drug references in old movies. Except maybe sex references.
Bootleg toothpaste, Jewish stereotypes, a murderer getting off scot-free, drug humor, cough syrupholics -- it's just another day on the Warner Brothers lot. If not the best pre-code picture, The Big Shakedown is certainly one of the more entertainingly absurd. On the other hand, the next time you visit New York's Chinatown district, stay away from the exotic-looking toothpastes. Many contain diethylene glycol, a substance usually found in, among other things, heating fuel and brake fluid. As least Jimmy Morrell's stuff cleaned your teeth without killing you.