Cinema: Tarnished Cherub

In folk tales, the power that changes a frog to a prince is called magic. In life, it is known as nostalgia. Wrapped in it, a newspaper becomes an illuminated manuscript, a vulgar city is transformed into El Dorado. Ben Hecht, once one of the highest-paid scenarists in Hollywood, had a nostalgia factory for a brain; what went in as the apprenticeship of a yellow journalist emerged as gilded celebrations of innocence.

The resultant movie, Gaily, Gaily, is a kind of Tom Jones in Chicago, a broad-shouldered knockabout farce that has no business being so comic—but is hugely funny because of Director...

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