—A Decent Drama With Some Good Comedy—
Your Bogie Fix:
Director: Hobart Henley
Marianne Madison (Sidney Fox) is a young woman who relishes the fact that she can have her pick of any man in town, but when she falls for a shady con man (Humphrey Bogart), Marianne soon finds herself, and her family, in an incredible amount of trouble.
What I Thought
This is a movie that can take some jarring shifts between comedy and drama, but when it really gets cooking, it does both pretty well.
It was great to see Sidney Fox in another starring role after just watching MIDNIGHT / CALL IT MURDER not that long ago. (She was the actress who had a very short career and eventually took her own life). Fox and Bogart have really wonderful chemistry, and they are given a lot more time to shine here.
A cautionary tale not unlike the one portrayed in In This Our Life, a later Bette Davis drama where Davis gets to play the bad girl, The Bad Sister focuses on an impulsive young woman who takes what she wants from life regardless of the consequences. Other than a few abrupt tonal shifts between light comedy and drama, the film is a fun watch with a number of enjoyable performances. I’m also very glad that director Henley tried to end on a happier note than what we might have been led to expect from the climax.
The only real sticking issue I had is that Marianne has such a hold over her trio of young suitors, Wade Turnball (Bert Roach), Dr. Dick Lindley (Conrad Nagel), and Valentine Corliss (Humphrey Bogart), that I began to wonder if there were any other women in town. After all, is Bette Davis really that much of a consolation prize that no one gives her a second glance until Marianne is long gone?!?
The Bogart Factor
One of his very early roles, Bogart does seem just a tad green here. He talks in a bit of a shrill voice and can be a little stiff in his movements. Valentine Corliss is another role in the same vein of Bogart characters that I’ve dubbed the young punks. He’s definitely hiding bad intentions, but he’s also very, very skilled at charming the pants off of everyone around him.
I have to admit that I had a lot of fun watching Valentine get the better of Dr. Lindley early on in the film when he’s able to steal Marianne away from the Dr. by simply offering her a car ride home. Really, Dr. Lindley? A woman dumps you over a car ride and you still don’t give up on her?
Bogart gets a good deal of screen time for the first three quarters of this movie, and it’s a lot of fun to see him so young and effervescent at thirty years old. For only his fourth feature film release, it’s a pretty big part.
Sidney Fox is so cute as Marianne Madison that I was ready to forgive her for all of her nastiness right up until she loses it on her father. She and Bogart click so well together as they con everyone around them that it’s a wonder Valentine didn’t take her on the road. After seeing Fox for a second time, I’m definitely going to explore her filmography further.
This was Bette Davis’ first film, and as the wallflower younger sister, Laura Madison, the only drawback from her performance is that I think she’s just too doggone cute to have been ignored by all the young men in her town for so long.
Conrad Nagel is top billed as Dr. Dick Lindley even though his part isn’t that big. Probably the best moment in the film comes when he finally kisses Bette Davis over a newborn baby to ignite their romance.
Bert Roach is the rotund young suitor Wade Turnball. He’s got the most satisfying ending in the entire film, and his comedic touch lightens the movie at just the right moments.
David Durand plays Marianne and Laura’s kid brother Hedrick. He does such a great job of stealing scenes and playing an impish brat that even I wanted to smack him.
The standout role here though, is none other than Zasu Pitts as the Madison’s servant, Minnie. Her timing is impeccable, and after It All Came True, I’m ready to say that she’s one of my favorite comedic film actresses from Classic Hollywood. Her continual repetition of Hmmm! whenever she gets frustrated had me smiling every time. After looking through her filmography on IMDB a bit, it looks like she was an experienced silent film actress before the talkies. I need to find more of her work!
Classic Bogie Moment
I’ve mentioned it time and time again on this blog – but Bogart can do a lot with just a little. In A. Sperber’s Bogart biography, she talked a lot about how he would often trim back his lines and try to convey his message with as few words as possible. We get a classic example of that here as he adds a subtle pause in a line as Valentine responds to an offer from Marianne:
Marianne: How’d ya like to take a little walk, Mr. Corliss?
Valentine: There’s nothing I’d rather do than . . . take a walk.
Just that tiny pause, with a little added smile, is more than enough to tell us that he’s got more on his mind than walking.
The Bottom Line
Much like Big City Blues, this is a film with a lot of comedic touches before it takes a sharp right-turn into a painful and heavy climax. Still, it ends on a much brighter note, and overall, the cast gels very well together. A great early role for Bogart!