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The Big Brain (1933)

Passed | | Drama | 5 August 1933 (USA)
The story of a ruthless small time crook's rise from lowly barber shop backroom bookie to high stakes international swindler. Max Werner (Stone) goes from the gambling to crooked stocks and... See full summary »


George Archainbaud


Sy Bartlett (story), Warren Duff (screenplay) | 2 more credits »


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Credited cast:
George E. Stone ... Max Werner
Phillips Holmes ... Terry Van Sloan
Fay Wray ... Cynthia Glennon
Minna Gombell ... Margy
Lilian Bond ... Dorothy Norton
Reginald Owen ... Lord Darlington
Berton Churchill ... Col. Higginbotham
Reginald Mason ... Lord Latham
Sam Hardy ... Slick Ryan
Randall Stake Randall Stake ... Scoop
Edgar Norton ... Butler
Charles McNaughton Charles McNaughton ... Wallack
Lucien Littlefield ... Justice of the Peace
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Douglass Dumbrille ... Dan Thomas


The story of a ruthless small time crook's rise from lowly barber shop backroom bookie to high stakes international swindler. Max Werner (Stone) goes from the gambling to crooked stocks and bond dealing,getting ever richer. Dodging the law, he flees to England where he follows through with more stock chicanery, setting up phony companies. After a newspaper exposes one of his associates, he double crosses another to take his girlfriend back to America, where a trap awaits him. Written by WesternOne1

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The Little Napoleon of Wildcat Finance...His Life and Love (Print Ad-Rochester Evening Journal and Post-Express,((Rochester, NY)) 3 July 1933)




Passed | See all certifications »






Release Date:

5 August 1933 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Enemies of Society See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


This film is presumed lost. Please check your attic. See more »


Referenced in Romance in Manhattan (1935) See more »

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User Reviews

Runyonesque runt.
5 January 2005 | by F Gwynplaine MacIntyreSee all my reviews

The first time I saw the movie 'Guys and Dolls', with its chorus line of phony Damon Runyon gangsters, I noticed that one character didn't fit in with the rest of the mob: a petty crook named Society Max, played by a runty little actor named George E Stone. His part was undersized (like the actor himself), yet he seemed to be in a completely different movie from everyone else. 'Where'd they find this guy?' I wondered. 'Couldn't they have found someone who fit in with the rest of the cast?' But I noticed Stone, and as I learnt more about this actor I understood why he didn't fit in: because George E Stone was the genuine article in a crowd full of fakes. In real life, Stone was a drinking buddy of Damon Runyon and more than a few gangsters. If Stone's screen portrayals of petty crooks didn't fit the Hollywood template, that's because he based his performances on reality, instead of reinforcing cinema stereotypes.

'The Big Brain', a low-budget second feature, gives Stone a rare chance at a leading role, though he's playing a little man in the figurative sense as well as the literal one. Max Werner (Stone) is a runty egotist who fancies he's catnip to the ladies. A confidence trickster named Sam Ryan is impressed with Werner's nerve, and gives him a job as a bonds salesman ... selling fake bonds. Werner decides he likes being a crook, but the bond racket is getting too hot for him, so he scarpers to England (courtesy of some unconvincing RKO set design and stock shots), and starts swindling the milords and the miladies. But then Werner meets a pretty woman who seems to be attracted to him. Does she actually see something in this guy, or has she got a cute angle that he's too obtuse to notice?

George E Stone's sheer talent and personality go a considerable way towards putting this over, but he's seriously undercut by the fact that the English characters in this movie are all very implausible stereotypes of the 'I say, old boy' variety ... despite the presence of a couple of genuine Brits in the cast. The movie's pacing is poor, the direction is weak, and some camera set-ups are downright annoying. The script is more than slightly amusing, but the ending manages to be both contrived and obvious. SPOILER: The lady who seems to love Werner is really just a decoy to get him arrested. Robert Emmett O'Connor (the second-team William Frawley), who played sour-faced detectives in several other movies, repeats that turn here ... and his presence is welcome, even though O'Connor doesn't do anything here that he didn't do better in 'A Night at the Opera'. Lucien Littlefield is amusing in a supporting role. Littlefield was a sorely underrated performer, who was so protean that most viewers don't realise his wide range of portrayals were all the same actor. Phillips Holmes gives his usual neurasthenic effeminate performance. Fans of Fay Wray will see nothing special here. Mostly from the pleasure I got in seeing George E Stone play a lead role, I'll rate this weak movie 6 points out of 10.

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