Looking for Trouble

Last updated
Looking for Trouble
Film poster
Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by Leonard Praskins
Elmer Harris
J. Robert Bren (story)
Starring Spencer Tracy
Jack Oakie
Constance Cummings
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography James Van Trees
Edited byHanson Fritch
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
March 29, 1934
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States

Looking for Trouble is a 1934 American Pre-Code crime film directed by William A. Wellman and starring Spencer Tracy, Jack Oakie and Constance Cummings. [1] After he is rejected by a woman, a man leaves his safe job and joins a gang that robs banks. The film features actual stock earthquake footage.



A telephone line repairman named Joe Graham (Spencer Tracy) lives in Los Angeles. One night he's offered a promotion but declines telling his boss he's happy being a "trouble shooter" working out in the field solving problems for a living.

Later Joe’s co-worker and partner Dan Sutter cannot work the night shift, and Joe has to work with a new repairman called Casey, who has an aptitude for practical jokes. Joe and Casey run into some odd things during their shift, finding a corpse at the place of their first assignment.

When the shift is over, both men go for a drink, and they find their colleague Dan very drunk in a casino. This night the police are on their way to raid the casino, but Casey hears about the raid and manages to warn both his colleagues and the casino owner, causing the raid to be a complete failure.

The next day both Casey and Joe are accused of tipping off the owner and causing the raid to be unsuccessful. In an attempt to exculpate himself, Joe tells his boss about the reason for their involvement in the events, and about Dan’s visit to the casino. The result is that Dan is fired from his position without notice.

Joe has been involved with one of the company’s switchboard operators, Ethel Greenwood. They split up after he suspected her of dating his partner Dan one night when Joe was working overtime. Now he reconciles with her and they go back together. However, soon after they are reunited, Dan tells Ethel about how he got fired from work, and Ethel is upset with Joe for causing it. They break up again.

Joe and Ethel don’t see each other for a while, but he hears she quit her job and started working for another company together with Dan. It turns out the office where they work is a cover-up for a racketeering operation, run by two men by the name of George and Max. Their illegal business idea consists of tapping into the phone lines of a nearby investment company to get secret stock tips.

Joe is unaware of this sly operation, until one day when he and Casey are sent to investigate the investment company’s phone lines. They have complained about the lines malfunctioning, and when Joe sees the tap he discloses the racketeering operation. Joe catches Dan red handed, as he is trying to get into the investment company’s vaults and steal the contents.

The police are notified, and the robbery in progress is stopped, but Dan manages to escape from the crime scene. Joe tips off the police about Dan and they go to his apartment. When they arrive, Ethel is there to meet up with Dan for their trip to Mexico with the bounty from the robbery. Ethel finds Dan shot and killed in the apartment and comes running out into the street in a state of complete hysteria. When the police catch her, she has a check from Dan’s bosses in her hand, and it has Dan’s fingerprints all over it. Ethel is arrested for killing Dan and being an accomplice in the racketeering operation.

Joe is doubtful of Ethel’s involvement in the illegal business, and he doesn’t believe she killed Dan. He decides to find Dan’s other girlfriend and partner in crime, Pearl Latour. Joe searches all over Long Beach to find her, and eventually he does. Pearl confesses to Joe that she indeed killed Dan, and that the reason was that he was trying to trick her and take the money that was hers. While Joe and Pearl are still talking, an earthquake shakes the whole area, and the house where they are caves in from the shaking. Pearl doesn’t escape the house in time and is buried under the masses, but is still alive. To get Pearl’s story about how she killed Dan, Joe and Casey manage to use an emergency phone line to contact her under the debris. Pearl’s last confession is then heard by the police, and Ethel is released.

Before Joe can take Pearl in, however, a huge earthquake hits Long Beach, and Pearl is buried in debris. Joe and Casey rig an emergency phone line, and police Captain Flynn records Pearl's dying confession. Ethel is cleared of all suspicions and released from jail. Upon her release Ethel and Joe are both guests at Casey and his fiancee Maizie’s wedding at city hall, at which Ethel persuades Joe to get a marriage license of his own. [2]


Related Research Articles

<i>Libeled Lady</i> 1936 film by Jack Conway

Libeled Lady is a 1936 screwball comedy film starring Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy, written by George Oppenheimer, Howard Emmett Rogers, Wallace Sullivan, and Maurine Dallas Watkins, and directed by Jack Conway. This was the fifth of fourteen films in which Powell and Loy were teamed.

<i>Boys Town</i> (film) 1938 film by Norman Taurog

Boys Town is a 1938 biographical drama film based on Father Edward J. Flanagan's work with a group of underprivileged and delinquent boys in a home that he founded and named "Boys Town". It stars Spencer Tracy as Father Edward J. Flanagan, and Mickey Rooney with Henry Hull, Leslie Fenton, and Gene Reynolds.

"What's in the Box" is episode 144 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. It originally aired on March 13, 1964 on CBS. In this episode, a man's television set displays his past, present, and future, revealing to him that he will kill his wife.

Spencer Moon

Spencer Moon is a fictional character from the popular BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Christopher Parker between 2002 and 2005. Spencer is the brother of Alfie Moon, played by Shane Richie.

Francis Colacurcio Sr. was an American mobster and boss of the Seattle crime family known for running strip clubs in Seattle, Washington. He was a subject of ongoing federal investigations into organized crime in the city and was suspected of being an organized crime boss.

Anthony Carfano, also known as "Little Augie Pisano", was a New York gangster who became a caporegime, or group leader, in the Luciano crime family under mob bosses Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello.

<i>Dancers in the Dark</i> 1932 film by David Burton

Dancers in the Dark is a 1932 American pre-Code film about a taxi dancer, a big band leader, and a gangster.

Buffalo crime family Organized crime group based in Buffalo, New York

The Buffalo crime family, also known as the Magaddino crime family, the New York State crime family, the Todaro crime family and The Arm, is an Italian-American Mafia crime family based in Buffalo, New York, United States. The family operates throughout western New York, Erie, Pennsylvania, and Hamilton, Ontario. The Buffalo family has strong connections with the Hamilton-based Luppino and Papalia families. The current boss of the Buffalo crime family is Joseph A. "Big Joe" Todaro Jr., who has been running the crime family since his father, Joseph E. "Lead Pipe Joe" Todaro Sr., retired.

The Kansas City crime family is an Italian-American Mafia family based in Kansas City, Missouri.

<i>Ive Got Your Number</i> (film) 1934 film by Ray Enright

I've Got Your Number is a 1934 American Pre-Code romantic comedy film directed by Ray Enright. Starring Joan Blondell, Pat O'Brien, Allen Jenkins and Glenda Farrell. The film was released by Warner Bros. on February 24, 1934. Two telephone repairmen romance a pair of blondes with many adventures.

<i>Pink String and Sealing Wax</i> 1945 film by Robert Hamer

Pink String and Sealing Wax is a 1945 British drama film directed by Robert Hamer and starring Mervyn Johns. It is based on a play with the same name by Roland Pertwee. It was the first feature film Robert Hamer directed on his own.

<i>More Than a Secretary</i> 1936 film by Alfred E. Green

More Than a Secretary is a 1936 American romantic comedy film directed by Alfred E. Green and written by Dale Van Every and Lynn Starling. The story was adapted by Ethel Hill and Aben Kandel, based on the magazine story "Safari in Manhattan" by Matt Taylor. It tells the story of a health magazine secretary who is in love with her boss.

<i>Whipsaw</i> (film) 1935 film by Sam Wood

Whipsaw is a 1935 American crime drama film directed by Sam Wood and starring Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy. Written by Howard Emmett Rogers, based on a story by James Edward Grant, the film is about a government agent working undercover traveling across the country with an unsuspecting woman, hoping she will lead him to her gang of jewel thieves. The film was produced by Harry Rapf for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and was released on December 18, 1935, in the United States.

Ralph Natale is a former American mobster. He was the Boss of the Philadelphia crime family from 1995 until 1999, when he became the first American Mafia boss to turn state's evidence. Natale helped sentence Joey Merlino to a 14 year sentence in 2001, but in January 2005, was also sentenced for racketeering, receiving a 13 year sentence. He was released in May 2011 and entered the witness protection program.

<i>Night in New Orleans</i> 1942 film by William Clemens

Night in New Orleans is a 1942 American crime film directed by William Clemens and written by Jonathan Latimer. The film stars Preston Foster, Patricia Morison, Albert Dekker, Charles Butterworth, Dooley Wilson and Paul Hurst. The film was released on July 1, 1942, by Paramount Pictures.


  1. Looking for Trouble Detail View, ftvdb.bfi.org.uk; accessed August 7, 2015.
  2. Looking for Trouble Detail View, tcm.com; accessed August 7, 2015.