Your Bogie Fix:
Director: – Chester Erskine
A jury foreman (O.P. Heggie) questions his responsibility in sentencing a woman to death after murdering her husband in a crime of passion. In a wild coincidence, on the night of the execution, the foreman’s daughter (Sidney Fox) claims to have committed the same type of crime.
What I Thought
Based on the 1930 play Midnight (which apparently was a bomb?!?), this film never really takes off. Originally released under the name Midnight, it was re-released again with the new name, Call It Murder, after Bogart became a big star. His billing also shot up from eighth to first, although his screen time probably doesn’t warrant the move.
The film opens promisingly enough at a court trial where we meet small time hood Gar Boni (Humphrey Bogart) flirting with Stella Weldon (Sidney Fox) while they watch Stella’s father chair the jury for a murder case. The moment that they share together, as Gar Boni insults the jury before realizing who he’s sitting next to, is sweet and funny. A lot of that smooth and classic Bogart style comes through, plain as day, in this early career film. While they could have used some more scenes between the two lovebirds, it does a decent job of holding up with less charismatic actors.
The film really centers around Stella’s father, played by O.P. Heggie. (Having trouble picturing O.G.? He was the blind man in Boris Karloff’s version of Frankenstein.) Much of the movie is spent in close up on Heggie as we watch a mostly silent internal debate rage within him about his work on the jury. He’s not a bad actor, and Director Erskine uses those silent close-ups to good effect, occasionally juxtaposing the images of Heggie with the death row inmate awaiting execution.
Erskine also delivers a good scene at a pool hall between a reporter (Henry Hull) and Heggie’s onscreen son-in-law (Lynne Overman) that gives us the bleary, claustrophobic feeling of what it’s like to talk to a drunk at a bar.
The Bogart Factor
Some added screen time for Bogart would have definitely benefited this production. Most of the film’s conflict takes place because of multiple crazy coincidences, making themes on fairness and justice feel shoehorned into the story rather than earned. So, are we to believe that Bogart and Fox just happen to meet at the trial, fall in love, and then have their big blow-up fight the very night that the murderer’s execution takes place? And there also just happens to be a reporter on hand to cover it? Is a jury foreman’s immediate reaction to an execution really front page news? Weren’t there other jury members to blame? Heggie can’t be held solely responsible can he? It’s all a little too convenient.
Bogart actually does a great job here, though, making the most of what little time he has. There are certainly seeds of his later gangster roles – a cool and collected gunman that’s smooth with the ladies and talks a good game.
There are flashes of talent here as Henry Hull plays the reporter, Nolan,giving the climax of the film a lot of unearned gravitas.
O.P. Heggie does more with his role as the troubled father than what the script probably deserved, especially considering the original source material flopped on stage before being adapted to the big screen.
Sidney Fox is a real treat, and I was sad to learn that her career plummeted not long after this film and that she eventually took her own life. I’ll have to see what else is available from her filmography.
Lynne Overman makes something out of his small role as the ne’er do well son-in-law that has big dreams, no work ethic, and more than a bit of a drinking problem. Overman’s probably the biggest hidden gem of the film as his character work is spot on.
Classic Bogie Moment
Easy one! Bogart and Fox get to share two very passionate onscreen kisses. Both of which will immediately remind you of Bogart/Bergman and Bogart/Bacall love scenes. I’m drawing a blank on kissing scenes where Bogart doesn’t use this shoulder grabbing, full mouthed passionate style, which always looks very convincing considering that he supposedly hated love scenes. Perhaps his best moment in the film comes after he tells Sidney Fox that he can’t go out on a date with her:
Bogart: Mad at me?
Fox: You know I am.
Bogart: Well, kiss me anyway.
And they do.
The Bottom Line
This film is definitely rough around the edges, and the ending will likely leave you more than a bit confused, but it’s worth a watch. While you might not find it all that re-watchable, there are a couple of decent Bogart moments for you completists.