—Watchable with Solid Performances—
Bogie Film Fix:
Director: William Dieterle
An overly legalistic cop (Pat O’Brien) reexamines his life after inadvertently pushing a man (Humphrey Bogart) to commit a robbery.
What I Thought
I’ve really been on the fence about Pat O’Brien. After two films where I thought that he was kind of a cold fish (China Clipper and San Quentin) and one in which I thought that he almost stole the show away from James Cagney (Angels With Dirty Faces), I can now say that I’m officially on the Pat O’Brien bandwagon.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a five-star film by any means, but O’Brien’s portrayal of an uber-legalistic cop that goes just a little too far shows the most relatable character that I’ve seen from him out of all four of his Bogart collaborations. I can see a lot of myself in the guy, actually.
Who doesn’t want the rest of the world to run according to their own rules? Who doesn’t want to be the best at their job? Who hasn’t gone just a little bit overboard trying to hold other people to expectations that no one could live up to? The moment where O’Brien threatens to ticket his own mother for littering (throwing food scraps to the birds) was one of the standout moments for me that, while played for laughs, probably showed a man who would today be diagnosed with severe OCD or even Asperger’s Syndrome.
I also appreciate the fact that Director Dieterle doesn’t go for a completely feel good personality shift in Officer O’Malley, as his change in demeanor comes slowly, bit by bit, making sure to point out that even though O’Malley can appreciate children on an individual basis, he’s not all that good with them in large groups. He’s also not the smoothest with women, as he seems to think that standup, tried-and-true, unwavering chivalry will work in an age when the streetwise fast talking dames (Ann Sheridan) are willing to go toe-to-toe with any man, even a cop.
The Bogart Factor
Down on his luck John Phillips is a small part, and definitely leans towards the two-dimensional side, but again, if you’re going to have to watch someone play a two-dimensional blue collar crook for a few minutes, you can do a lot worse than Bogart! Plus, there’s a glimpse of sweet Bogart madness that seeps out after he’s released from prison and goes after O’Brien when he thinks the cop is badgering him. Not a must-see for Bogart fans, but the film is watchable and has its moments, so you’ll come out even in the end!
Pat O’Brien plays the by-the-book cop, Officer James Aloysius O’Malley. With a name like that, can you blame the guy for developing a few glaring character flaws? Not unlike his role in China Clipper, this was a part that could have left him just as unlikable at the end as we found him in the beginning, but the script and director do well enough making sure that O’Brien’s judicious cop gets to learn his lesson and make a few changes. Again, it’s a great performance by O’Brien in a film filled with two-dimensional characters, so in my opinion, he saves the film and pushes it into the “enjoyable” category.
Ann Sheridan plays school teacher Judy Nolan, the woman that tames, teaches, and eventually falls for O’Brien’s stuffy cop. It’s another underdeveloped role for Sheridan, but she’s just so doggone cute and charismatic that it’s clear she did the most she could with the script. Here I was all excited to finally add her to ‘The Usual Suspects,’ and now I see that she has a very brief cameo in Treasure of the Sierra Madre! That film just got bumped up on my queue to watch!
Child actor Sybil Jason plays Bogart’s daughter, Barbara Phillips – the little girl who steals the heart of Officer O’Malley and helps pull him over to the good side. Jason is about as strong here as you could expect a child actor to be, and I have to admit that I laughed out loud every time she referred to her friend Tubby (Delmar Watson) by name. Oh, how times have changed. You give a kid that nickname today and you’d be expelled from school.
There are numerous other solid character actors to mention here, but I’m going to give the last slot to Bogie Film Blog favorite, Donald Crisp. Crisp’s role is small, but very solid, as usual. He plays O’Brien’s commanding officer, and spends every one of his few moments in the film trying to get O’Brien to recognize that a cop needs as much heart as he does brains. If my research is correct, I can now start his write up for ‘The Usual Suspects’ as this is the last film I needed to watch from his Bogart collaborations. Crisp has been so good in every role, no matter how great or how small, and I’m eager to dive into the rest of his filmography.
Classic Bogie Moment
It’s a pretty small part with not a lot to work with, but as always, Bogart finds a way to do a lot with a little. In the scene where he’s convicted to prison, Bogart hangs his head in despair. But if you’ll notice, just below his ears and about an inch forward, his jowl muscles are clenching and releasing, clenching and releasing with anguish – hardly even noticeable. It’s his only movement for several seconds of the film and it adds a painful sense of reality to the moment. While it might be a tiny acting choice, Bogart had an incredible talent for adding little nuances to smaller scenes that most actors would either overdo, or not even bother to think about.
The Bottom Line
This one’s a far cry from Bogart’s best work, but it’s a fine way to pass an evening. Pair it up with Angels With Dirty Faces for a double feature, and spend some time learning to appreciate Pat O’Brien like I did!