WriterGeorge S. Kaufman, John Lee Mahin, Carey Wilson Release dateJanuary 3, 1936 ScreenplayFrances Marion, Anita Loos CastSpencer Tracy (Dutch), Jean Harlow (Hattie), Una Merkel (Lil), Joseph Calleia (Nick), Victor Kilian ('Flytrap'), Mickey Rooney (Jimmy) Similar moviesClash by Night, Cannery Row, Tarnished
TaglineWhen a red-headed woman meets a red-headed man!
Riffraff preview clip
Riffraff is a 1936 American film starring Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy. The movie was written by Frances Marion, Anita Loos, and H. W. Hannaford, and directed by J. Walter Ruben.
Spencer Tracy plays a rough and tough fisherman ("Dutch" Mueller), who leads in a strike with his fellow fishery workers against the "fat-cat" owners of a tuna cannery. The love interest Hattie (Jean Harlow), is also a tuna cannery worker. Her character has a tough exterior with her "bombshell" good looks.
Jimmie (Mickey Rooney) is a teenager who is the uncle of the two youngest children. They all live with "Pops" (Roger Imhof), Hattie and his Aunt Lil (Una Merkel) together in the same small, apartment-like "shack" on the wharf. Aunt Lil runs the home.
The thuggish cannery owner, Nick Lewis (Joseph Calliea), is also trying to romance Hattie with his money and gifts. He has wealth, Dutch does not. Hattie falls for Dutch in the end, but this antagonism creates many struggles throughout the film. Pete (William Newell) is a family friend, along with many colorful characters.
The movie explores some cutting edge sub-themes that were socially current at the time of its release in 1936 release. Some scenes involve a woman having a baby while in prison and a hobo camp deep in the woods.
Jean Harlow as Harriet "Hattie"/"Hat" Tuttle
Spencer Tracy as Rudolph "Dutch" Muller
Una Merkel as Lil Bundt
Joseph Calleia as Nick Lewis
Victor Kilian as "Flytrap"
Mickey Rooney as Jimmy Thurger
J. Farrell MacDonald as "Brains" McCall
William Newell as "Pete"
Roger Imhof as "Pops" Thurger
Juanita Quigley as Rosie Bundt
Paul Hurst as Red Belcher
Vince Barnett as "Lew", a fisherman
Dorothy Appleby as Gertie, a waitress
Judith Wood as Mabel, a waitress
Arthur Housman as Ratsy and Bugsy
Wade Boteler as Detective Bert Scanlon
Helene Costello as Maizie
Rafaela Ottiano as Matron
Contemporary reviews from critics were generally positive, both for the film and Harlow's new "natural" look as she donned a brunette wig over her trademark platinum locks for the role. Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times praised the moments of "robust comedy", but lamented the instances when it turned serious and a "boisterous jest skids down the slopes of melodramatic routine." Variety ran a positive review, praising the "excellent cast" and dialogue that was "vigorous and well-written." Film Daily was also positive, calling it a "lusty picture, full of action and comedy", with "fine performances" from Harlow and Tracy. The Prescott Evening Courier wrote that "Jean Harlow has never displayed her versatility to a better advantage." The Milwaukee Sentinel wrote there was "much hilarious comedy and robust action which takes away the sting of too much pathos", and that Tracy did an "excellent job." John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote a negative review, regretting that the film "leaves Miss Harlow in the background for longish and rather dreary stretches ... I'd say of the picture that there is too much tuna fish and not enough Harlow."
The film's depiction of organized labor drew some controversy. Max S. Hayes of The Cleveland Citizen attacked the film as "propaganda to prejudice the public against trade unionism."
According to MGM records the film earned $717,000 in the US and $330,000 elsewhere resulting in a loss of $63,000.