Everybody seems to know Nicky and he seems to be a big man in his milieu, so it's a surprise to find him begging to borrow money from a restaurant proprietor to pay for Sheba's dinner. He doesn't let on about it to her, and he assures his creditor that he has a big deal in the works that makes him a good risk. I hope he didn't mean the job he actually does, which is to knock over the store where poor Jack and Sheba's father both work. Nicky has to shoot the father when the old man goes for a gun -- don't worry; it's just a flesh wound! -- while Jack makes him because Nicky honks his car horn as he pulls out for his getaway. Nicky's four-note car horn sounds like just about every cartoon car horn you've heard from this period, yet Jack assumes -- correctly! -- that Nicky Solomon and only Nicky Solomon has such a horn. Nicky is all too easily tricked -- by Jack, no less -- into lamming out of town and is caught at the train station, but mercifully this is not the end of Nicky. As befits an Alice White vehicle he's taken alive and will only get five years for his crimes, and Morris reclaims some of his bad-guy charisma by joking with the cops as they take him away.
Playing Around isn't yet a gangster picture because it isn't really about the gangster. He isn't the menace of social problem that needs to be exorcised violently in Little Caesar and The Public Enemy. Instead, Nicky Solomon is just the villain who tempts the heroine with a lifestyle of easy money but is thwarted by Jack, our ultimate virtuous and resourceful hero. Morris is the best thing about the picture but given the competition that isn't saying much and his role does him no favors. The crime plot is nearly overshadowed by the Pirate's Den production numbers -- the place has segregated choruses, the black dancers getting their turn to perform late in the picture -- and the odd ending reinforces the feeling that this was meant to be more of a musical than it actually is. Some pictures of the period have exit music, but to date Playing Around is the only one I've seen that accompanies the exit music with a recap of the story, the sort of montage that might play over end credits decades later. Whether LeRoy was trying something new for novelty or the studio was trying to pad the picture out, I can't say. But while little makes Playing Around particularly good, this last moment definitely makes it different.