Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Back Street (1932)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Back Street (1932)

In director John Stahl's sentimental and romantic, pre-Code 'weepie' melodrama of an ill-fated romance involving extra-marital and sacrificial love, based upon Fannie Hurst's best-selling (and scandalous) 1931 novel (and remade in 1941 with Charles Boyer and Margaret Sullavan, and in 1961 with Susan Hayward and John Gavin):

  • the film highlighted the long-lasting relationship and steadfast love and devotion between 'mistress' Ray Schmidt (Irene Dunne) and her 'taken' man Walter D. Saxel (John Boles), ultimately a successful financier-banker, that lasted for their entire lifetimes
  • the early scenes, set in turn-of-the-century Cincinnati, depicted Ray's character as wild, flirtatious, free, independent and carefree (a fun-loving "good-time girl" with multiple suitors)
  • but after her initial romantic hook-up with Walter (including an important, but missed chance to meet his mother (Maude Turner Gordon)), they subsequently separated, and then accidentally remet again five years later in New York; she decided to surrender to love, gave up her career and financial independence, and became the married man's permanent 'back street mistress' or make-believe wife in the shadows of Walter's married life
  • the alienated heroine outcast was kept tucked away joylessly in a cheap and tiny apartment while he was married to wife Corinne Saxel (Doris Lloyd) with two children
  • during some pleasant, secret visits with her in her apartment, Walter enjoyed chocolate and gingerbread, although she mostly experienced shame, loneliness, anguish and the negation of her potential motherhood
  • in a dramatic, closing death sequence in Paris after Walter had suffered a massive stroke and heart attack, his last thoughts turned to Ray - he could only say her name during his requested final phone call with her before he died; she replied to him: "Walter... yes, I'm here! I'm listening...I can't hear you, dear. What are you trying to say to me?"; she intently listened (the phone receiver was set down) as Walter's son Richard "Dick (William Bakewell), who had been holding the phone, reacted to the death: ("Dad, Dad! Nurse! Doctor!") and she heard the doctor's somber pronouncement: ("He's passed on"); Ray screamed out Walter's name in shock and begged: "Don't leave me!" and then collapsed to the floor
Ray's Phone Conversation with Walter as He Died of a Stroke
  • following Walter's death, the tearful Ray sat in mourning in her shabby Parisian apartment, next to Walter's portrait; Walter's repentant son Richard visited Ray, and was now very sympathetic to Ray's feelings of true love and her dire plight; he explained: "His last thoughts were of you, Mrs. Schmidt"; he was astonished to learn that she had been sustained or provided for by only $200/month ("You mean everything? Good heavens!"); because she was not in Walter's will, he promised to continue to provide for her well-being
  • the film's powerful ending visualized a direct but dreamy connection between Walter (represented by a head-shot of his portrait next to her) and Ray when she spoke to him about how nice Richard had been to her, and their missed opportunities together: "Your son is going to take care of me. He was so nice. He might have been my son, our son. I wonder, Walter, what would have happened if I'd met your mother that day in the park"; desperate to be with Walter, she retreated into fantasy and replayed in her mind that she had actually met his mother (Maude Turner Gordon) at a local band concert in the park, who greeted her warmly: "So you are Ray Schmidt. You are nice. My dear, you are all he said you were. And I hope you both will be very happy"
  • in the film's final moments, Ray was able to transcend time and any other barriers (social and physical) that stood between them -- she murmured: "I'm coming, Walter, I'm coming" and succumbed (by slowly bowing her head onto the table holding Walter's portrait)

Ray in Mourning After Walter's Death (Next to Framed Portrait)

Fantasy Replay of Meeting Walter's Mother

Ray's Death: "I'm coming Walter, I'm coming"


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