Birth Name: Abraham Orovitz
Birthdate: July 16, 1906
Number of Films that Vincent Sherman Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5
Born and raised in Georgia, Vincent Sherman started his show business career acting on Broadway before making the transition to small parts in Hollywood, and then eventually writing and directing for some of Tinseltown’s biggest stars.
There are a number of good interviews with Sherman available on YouTube that are easy to find if you search for his name. (Forgive me if I don’t link them directly, but I’m not sure of their legality and I try my best to keep ‘The Bogie Film Blog’ on the straight and narrow!) A couple of them give some great insights into Sherman’s work with Bogart and Sherman talks about how Warner Brothers tasked him with taking a well-known heavy (Bogart) and trying to do something else with him – including trying to make him a leading man. While Bogart had received some great reviews for High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, Sherman says that more than a few people questioned Bogart’s ability to “get the girl” when Sherman was asked to direct the actor in All Through the Night.
In short, I really love and appreciate all five of the films that Sherman and Bogart collaborated on together. Other than Across the Pacific, I think one of the defining aspects of all the films that Sherman worked on with Bogart is that he was able to insert an incredible sense of humor into all of the stories, giving them a camp-like feel as he took well-worn genres (horror, gangster) and turned them on their heads.
From his interviews, it doesn’t sound like Sherman and Bogart were the best of friends (Bogart apparently “groused” a lot about the scripts), but you have to admit that these two men did some really solid work together. It’s also fun to note that Sherman was on both sides of Bogart’s transition from B-films (The Return of Doctor X) to more A-list affairs (Across the Pacific).
Both men also did their fair share of battling with The House Un-American Activities Committee, although Sherman got the shorter end of the stick as he was eventually punished by being blacklisted.
Crime School – 1938 (Screenplay, Dialogue Director)
Credited for the screenplay alongside of Crane Wilbur, this is probably my least favorite film out of all the collaborations that Sherman had with Bogart. It’s a fairly pedestrian script that is incredibly reminiscent of an earlier Bogart film (San Quentin), and it doesn’t have as much of Sherman’s humor injected into it like the next three films. Not a terrible movie, but probably not a must see unless you’re a Bogart completist, or you really like The “Dead End” Kids who appear in a few solid roles. You can read my original write up on the film here.
King of the Underworld – 1939 (Screenplay, Dialogue Director)
Credited for the screenplay alongside of George Bricker, this one’s a step up from Crime School, but suffers quite a bit tonally as Director Lewis Seiler can’t seem to decide whether or not we’re supposed to laugh at, or fear, Bogart. I have a suspicion that since both Sherman and Seiler had a penchant for funny gangster films (Seiler would go on to direct It All Came True) they couldn’t help but add a little too much humor into this one. One of the best moments – and one of my all-time favorite comedic moments for Bogart, comes in this film when Kay Francis, playing a doctor, diagnoses Bogart’s gangster kingpin as “the moronic type.” Being a bit dimwitted, Bogart takes the diagnosis as if it might be a life threatening disease. (And perhaps it could be argued that it is for him in this film!) Again, not a must see, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in this script. It’s a bit reminiscent of The Petrified Forest as there’s a traveling writer who’s taken hostage by gangsters and eventually falls in love; but it’s not so close as to ruin the film by comparison. You can read my original write up on the film here.
The Return of Doctor X – 1939 (Director)
After reading everything written about Sherman’s directorial debut, I fully prepared myself to hate this one. Sherman said that he was given the choice to do this horror film or a comedy, and chose this one as the lesser of two evils. Bogart supposedly hated the movie. Critics hated the movie. The script was supposedly awful. There was surely no way this was going to be enjoyable was there? I loved it. I’m not kidding; this film is a campy blast. Sherman shows a great eye for scene setup and playing soap opera melodrama for full effect. Yes, the script was bad, but Sherman seems to be filming every moment with a tongue-firmly-placed-in-cheek style humor. To follow up just two years later with All Through the Night, I have to believe that Sherman was intentionally playing with clichéd horror movie tropes, poking fun at the very fans that were paying to see this film. Fortunately, he does it with such style that I couldn’t help but thoroughly enjoy myself for all 62 minutes of this feature. You can read my original write up on the film here.
All Through the Night – 1941 (Director)
With a star-studded cast that included Bogart, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, Kaaren Verne, Frank McHugh, William Demarest, Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, Barton McClane, Ben Welden, and Jane Darwell, a hilarious script, and wonderful action scenes, this is easily my favorite film out of all the Sherman/Bogart collaborations. There are multiple laugh-out-loud moments. Lorre plays one of the best creepy villains of all time. Bogart gets to sock Nazis! What else do you need? Watching Bogart and Demarest go undercover into a secret Nazi meeting as munitions experts is so stinking funny that it’s worth owning the DVD for that scene alone. A gangster chasing down a gang of Nazis for killing his favorite baker? It’s a preposterous plot, but Sherman never takes the film seriously long enough to let you think about it. The way he’s able to balance action, drama, and comedy all in one film makes me wonder why this one’s not more talked about. It’s definitely in my top five re-watchable Bogart films and it should be in yours too. You can read my original write up on the film here.
Across the Pacific – 1942 (Director, Final Scenes)
Directed by John Huston and reuniting an amazing acting trio (Bogart, Astor, and Greenstreet) from The Maltese Falcon’s cast, Sherman was only brought in at the very end to finish up the last few scenes when Huston had to go off to make documentaries for the U.S. during World War II. If you didn’t know about the director switch ahead of time, you’d never notice. Sherman does fine with his few minutes, making them blend in seamlessly with Huston’s work. As the story goes, the day Sherman came in to take over, Huston was filming the scene where Bogart is trapped in a movie theater at the end of the film. When Sherman asked Huston how Bogart gets out, Huston told him it was his problem to figure it out. He was off to the war! Whether it’s true, or (more than likely) just the stuff of Hollywood legend, it’s a fun story, and it shows the respect that Sherman had earned over his years as a director to be called in to finish such a big film. You can read my original write up on the film this Sunday.
*The Usual Suspects is a portion of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s multi-film collaborators. It’s usually anyone who has struck my fancy. The only rule is that I have to have reviewed/posted all of their films before writing them up. You can see the rest of the growing list of suspects here.