Daniel Raymond (Spencer Tracy) is known as Bugs to his friends, and indeed his enemies, but he started in business as a lowly truck driver with a volatile temper. When one day he attacked a policeman who was about to arrest him for deliberately hitting another vehicle, it all seemed to be about to go wrong for him: he lost his job, and he lost his girlfriend in one go. But he had ambitions, and like a number of men in America of the nineteen-twenties, he decided to take up a life of crime, racketeering to be precise. He started small, threatening trucking businesses with smashing up their vehicles if they did not give him and his budding organisation a cut of their profits. When they refused, he carried out his threat - Bugs wasn't messing around.
Quick Millions was the first hit for Spencer Tracy, though not in a role that he would be most accustomed to as his career progressed. In the early, Pre-Code thirties, gangster movies were the in thing, and made stars of actors like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni and George Raft (the latter of whom appeared in this), so it seemed obvious for the studio to take Tracy and give him a part as a ne'erdowell. He had already made a name for himself on the New York stage, and in those days the movies was the next obvious step; the plan worked out and he was soon one of the biggest new stars of the talkies, but did the persona of a mobster really suit him? He rarely gave a bad performance and wasn't bad here either.
However, Bugs did not play to his strengths, since it was a fairly one-dimensional role with not much for him to get his teeth into. He's an outwardly affable chap, but his essential immorality keeps showing through as if he cannot help himself, so no matter how often he tries to put on a respectable front, he will self-sabotage with his money-grabbing crimes. There was not a lot of development to the character since he was more or less the same man at the beginning as he was at the end, so the descent into Hell theme did not apply here as Bugs started out as a nasty piece of work and didn't change his ways, nor did he become worse aside from the small matter of being instrumental in causing murders and corruption so terrible that the whole city, the whole country in fact, are suffering.
Therefore his bad behaviour may increase, but he was the same evildoer he was at the beginning, he simply had a channel for his wickedness to be amplified. Interestingly, the film approached him not as the villain, but as the hero, or at least someone it was not going to judge too harshly, and this was something of a trademark for the writer and director, Rowland Brown. He did not direct too many films, thanks to a real-life temper comparable to Bugs', but there were rumours about him he could write a solid gangster movie because he had been a gangster before he went to Hollywood (bootlegging, but that counts, right?). His most lasting contribution would be the story for the classic Angels with Dirty Faces, and his Blood Money became a legitimate cult favourite of the Pre-Code fans, but Quick Millions was a little basic in comparison to the other, higher profile crime efforts hailing from the other studios of the day. It did include Raft doing the soft shoe shuffle, which is worth your time.