Joe Sawyer

Black Legion

*This post is a part of the “What a Character” Blogathon over at Aurora’s Gin Joint  hosted by @citizenscreen!  Check out the rest of the great posts over there!

Birth Name: Joseph Sauers

Birthdate: August 29, 1906

Number of Films that Joe Sawyer Made with Humphrey Bogart: 6

The Lowdown

There were two actors that inspired me to start ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of this blog. The first was a character actor named Ben Weldon. The second was Joe Sawyer. With a crooked nose, cleft chin, devilish smile, and a build like a brick house, Sawyer popped up time and time again in character roles in over 200 films and television shows.

While most people would probably recognize Sawyer from his recurring role as Sgt. Biff O’Hara on The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Sawyer’s unique look made him stand out to me immediately while watching Bogart film after Bogart film. Who was this guy? What’s his story? How many Bogart films was this guy in?

I actually had the chance to chat on the phone with Sawyer’s son a couple of months ago and he told me that his father was an independent contractor that usually hired himself out to studios for a week or two at a time – hence the smaller roles. While he wasn’t apparently a close friend with Bogart, they did both originate their roles in The Petrified Forest onstage together in New York, and on a few occasions they went out for drinks after a day of shooting.

While you may not recognize his name, I have no doubt that if you’re a fan of classic films, you’ll recognize Joe Sawyer’s unmistakable face!

The Filmography

The Petrified Forest – 1936

Petrified ForestSawyer with Bogart and Adrian Morris

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Sawyer plays Jackie, one of Bogart’s henchmen. A role he also originated on stage, Sawyer is a lot of fun in this small part, especially when he taunts Boze the gas station attendant. Sawyer plays Jackie with a wonderfully cruel sense of humor, and it’s pretty admirable that in between Bogart, Bette Davis, and Leslie Howard, Sawyer can hold his own. Plus, he gets to give Bogart the greatest introduction that he ever had in a film! You can read my original write up on the film here.

Black Legion – 1937

Black Legion

Sawyer plays Cliff, good friend and work buddy to Bogart. He’s great here as the borderline-intelligent bully that can cause a lot of havoc with just a little effort. He ropes Bogart into the violently anti-immigrant secret society known as The Black Legion, and it all goes downhill from there. Don’t we all know someone like Cliff? That guy or girl who’s incredibly likable one second, and then suddenly spouting some horrible ethnic joke or slur the next? You can read my original write up on the film here.

San Quentin – 1937

San Quentin

Sawyer plays Sailor Boy, the repeat offender who’s serving time with Bogart in San Quentin Prison, and he’s the real standout of the film. Sawyer and Bogart have great chemistry, and of all the films they did together, Sawyer gets the most chance to shine here. Sailor Boy is another role for Sawyer in which he gets to play the likable bad guy, and there’s a real glint of craziness behind his eyes throughout the film. You can find my original write up on the film here.

You Can’t Get Away With Murder – 1939

sawyer 2

Sawyer plays Red, a fellow inmate to Bogart, and for the only time in their collaboration, Sawyer plays a good guy. (You know, except that he’s a convict…) Red is doing his best to play life straight, but when the chance to escape comes up, he jumps at it. The plan eventually fails and everyone is shot or recaptured, except for Sawyer who’s left with an ambiguous ending after disappearing over a wall. Did they catch him? I hope not! After all those gangster and inmate roles, he deserves at least ONE successful escape! You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Roaring Twenties – 1939

Roaring TwentiesJames Cagney, Sawyer, and Bogart

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Sawyer plays The Sergeant, the tough as nails commanding officer who bullies Bogart during the war only to come face to face with him years later after Bogart has become a gangster in a bootlegging operation. The role is small, and Sawyer’s not given much to work with as far as his lines are concerned, but his side story with Bogart plays an integral part to Bogart’s overall character arc. Their final confrontation is one of the triggers that blows up the relationship between Bogart and Cagney. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Deadline U.S.A. – 1952

Screenshot_2015-11-09-21-24-53

The last collaboration between Bogart and Sawyer was Sawyer’s smallest role out of all six of their films together. He plays Whitey Franks, one of the henchmen for a gangster named Rienzi. To be honest, I don’t even remember if Sawyer has any lines here, as his job is to intimidate and rough up one of the witnesses against Rienzi’s. You can read my original write up on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing feature on The Bogie Film Blog where I take time to highlight some of Bogart’s best collaborators. You can read the rest of the entries here.
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10 thoughts on “Joe Sawyer

  1. Pingback: WHAT A CHARACTER! blogathon Schedule « Once upon a screen…

  2. Excellent choice for the blogathon and a very interesting read. I grew up loving Joe Sawyer’s sergeant on “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin” and, as a kid, it was such a shock to see him playing all those thugs and baddies in older movies. Thankfully, I’ve been able to overcome the sense of betrayal to enjoy the performances of my fellow Canuck.

  3. I’m not that familiar with Sawyer’s work, but I love him in “The Petrified Forest”.

    I just received a DVD set that includes “The Roaring Twenties”, and when I (finally!) watch this movie, I will pay extra attention to our man Joe.

    Thanks for featuring him in this blogathon. 🙂

  4. Fantastic post! I knew next to nothing about Sawyer and can’t believe I didn’t realize he was in so many films I love. Thanks so much for writing this and submitting it to the blogathon! Great read.

    Aurora

    • Thanks, Aurora! Life has been CRAZY busy – so much so, that I may have to put my Thursday posts on hiatus, but when I saw that you were helping host, I had to squeak Joe Sawyer in! Thanks so much for your love and dedication to film! I appreciate it!

  5. Pingback: Lloyd Bacon | The Bogie Film Blog

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