Angels Over Broadway (also called Before I Die) is a 1940 American Film Noir drama film starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen. Ben Hecht, who co-directed (with cinematographer Lee Garmes), co-produced and wrote the screenplay, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Fairbanks, Jr. co-produced, helping persuade Harry Cohn of Columbia to finance. Cohn gave them Rita Hayworth, in her first leading role in an "A" picture. "Cohn couldn't figure out what the picture was about but neither could we," said Fairbanks Jr.
Although it was made six years before It's a Wonderful Life, it inadvertently plays as a cynical travesty of that film, given that it follows a similar story: a man planning to kill himself over lost money (albeit in this case embezzled) is "rescued" by a trio of unsavory types who decide that doing "a good deed" might be fun and even profitable.
Bill O'Brien is a New York con man in search of a suitable gullible person to make some money on. In a fancy nightclub he finds Charles Engle, a man ridden by guilt and on the brink of committing suicide after embezzling a large sum of money that he has spent on his high-maintenance wife.
Charles has the appearance of a common hillbilly from out of town visiting the city and Bill decides to scam him for his money. Bill is unaware that the desperate Charles only has until 6 am to pay back the money he has embezzled before the crime is discovered.
One of the showgirls at the club, Nina Barona, is persuaded by Bill to help trick Charles into entering a poker game to win back the money. The game is arranged by a gangster named Dutch Enright.
Another disillusioned man at the club, playwright Gene Gibbons, learns about Charles's misfortune from the suicide note he discovers in his coat, and wants to write the man a story with a happier ending.
He tries to get a valuable brooch from his ex-girlfriend, to give to Charles so that he can get the money, but his plan fails because the brooch is a cheap copy. Instead he overhears Bill telling of his poker scam against Charles, and persuades Bill to change the plan so that Charles wins the first rounds and is allowed to escape from the game after that. A deal is made, that Bill gets whatever Charles wins over the $3,000 he needs to pay the money back.
However, Gene passes out while waiting for the game to start, and when he wakes up he does not remember the deal he made with Bill, but goes home to his wife. Bill discovers that Gene is gone, and Dutch finds out about Charles's planned escape, and tries to stop him. Nina convinces Bill to do the right thing and help fend off Dutch's men when they try to get Charles and the money back.
Bill is changed by his discovery that behaving honorably has a positive effect on him; he falls in love with Nina, who returns his feelings. Thus they get a happy ending of their own.Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as Bill O'Brien
Rita Hayworth as Nina Barona
Thomas Mitchell as Gene Gibbons
John Qualen as Charles Engle
George Watts as Joseph Hopper
Ralph Theodore as Dutch Enright
Eddie Foster as Louie Artino
Jack Roper as Eddie Burns
Constance Worth as Sylvia Marbe