Lloyd Bacon

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Birth Name: Lloyd Francis Bacon

Date of Birth: December 4, 1889

Date of Death: November 15, 1955

Number of Films that Lloyd Bacon Made with Humphrey Bogart: 7

The Lowdown

The son of an actor, Lloyd Bacon would follow in his father’s footsteps into vaudeville before moving on to act in silent films, and then finally directing some of Hollywood’s greatest legends on the big screen.

From all reports, Bacon was an incredibly capable director who could work well with actors, bring a film in on time, and stay within the allotted budget. From performing stunts, to acting on the stage, to being in front of and behind the camera, Bacon spent a life learning the craft of film making, and while he wasn’t known as a flashy or incredibly famous director, Warner Brothers saw him as more than able to handle a long string of films in many different genres.

Bacon’s work with Bogart alone saw films with gangsters, cowboys, lawyers, prisoners, monks, and navy seamen. No, none of the films they collaborated on are remembered as classics, but almost all of them hold up as a decent pictures in their own rights. Bogart was supposedly happy to work underneath him as a director, so that tells you a lot right there!

There is a line in the Sperber/Lax Bogart bio that says Bacon directed Bogart seven times before their final film Action in the North Atlantic. Researching on my own, I only have them working together seven times in total, so if anyone has any info on whether or not this was a mistake in the bio, let me know!

But today, let’s welcome Lloyd Bacon into The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

Marked Woman – 1937

marked

This one’s really grown on me over time. Part of the that is a growing appreciation for some of the other actors in the film (Ben Welden, Bette Davis, Mayo Methot, etc.), part is the appreciation that I now have for Director Lloyd Bacon. Warner Brothers used Bacon for several “ripped from the headlines” films, including this one, and Bacon comes off as a good, straightforward, meat and potatoes director who gets the job done.

Loosely based on the fall of gangster Lucky Luciano, there is plenty to appreciate in this film. The cast has been put together well, the script is tight, and it’s always fun to see Bogart and Davis looking so young in their roles. Davis is as bright-eyed and gorgeous as she ever would be, and Bogart has got the healthiest and most filled out physique that I ever remember seeing on him.

You can read my original post on the film here.

San Quentin – 1937


san quentin

Almost all of the ingredients are here for a great film– great actors, capable director, great cinematographer, etc. – but the one thing lacking is an interesting script. Through no fault of Pat O’Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart, or Joe Sawyer, there’s just not much excitement or drama to be had in this film. Everyone seems to be sleepwalking through their parts, especially O’Brien, who was more than capable of carrying a good role if he got one.

Perhaps it’s the fact that O’Brien’s Captain Stephen Jameson is just written too blandly to evoke any sympathy. His range of emotion shifts back and forth between mildly uncomfortable and slightly content. Perhaps it’s the fact that every time some real motivation for drama occurs, all the tension is quickly let out of the scene with a few lines of dialogue that wraps up any conflict before it takes off.

Bacon’s direction feels a little more loose here, especially in some of the final chase scenes that could have been tighter.

Am I being too hard on the film? Maybe. I’ll check it out again sometime, but it is a great showcase for regular Bogart collaborator, Joe Sawyer!

You can read my original post on the film here.

Racket Busters – 1938

Racket Busters Poster

Let me sum this one up for you quickly to save some time:

A brave man stands up to a gangster. The gangster starts hurting people. The brave man instantly caves and joins the gangster’s racket. One of the brave man’s friends dies. The brave man returns . . . a little too late in my opinion . . . and finally saves the day.

I thought this was the weakest collaboration out of all of work that Bacon did with Bogart. The main problems with this film are firmly rooted within the script. It’s pretty hard to root for a hero that abandons his friends until they start to get beat up and die. Maybe if they’d stopped short of actually killing George Brent’s friend and mentor played by George O’Shea – you know, maybe just put him in a coma – our sympathies might have held out.

There’s a reason this one is harder to find! You can read my original post on the film here.

The Oklahoma Kid – 1939

Kid Poster

If you’re any sort of regular reader here on the blog, you know that I’ve written about this one numerous times. Should Cagney and Bogart have played cowboys. No. Should we still enjoy the film? Yes! It’s actually not half bad! Add into it that Cagney and Bogart have an awesome fight scene at the end, and it’s well worth your time! You even forgive the fact that it’s pretty obvious when the two icons switch places with their stunt doubles.

This film will show you two things about Director Bacon. First – he could helm a Western pic with great skill. Second – his work as a stuntman really shines through in his directing here!

You can read my original post on the film here.

Invisible Stripes – 1939

Invisible Stripes

The cast of George Raft, William Holden, Jane Bryan, Flora Robson, and Bogart is are a very good ensemble, and all the character relationships really crackle – especially Raft and Robson who give us most of the heart in this film. Director Bacon handles them so well, especially in the quieter, character building moments of love and loss with Raft’s family. Raft’s final line to Robson is so subtly done that I almost missed it, even though it’s an incredibly heart wrenching moment.

I can see why this movie might not have gotten the most glowing reviews. The story of an ex-con trying to go straight had been done so many times before this that it must have felt like old cliché. Bogart does his absolute best with the role that he’s given, but he’s underused, and a young William Holden still seems a little green as it’s only his fourth film. All that aside though, the film is entirely watchable and keeps the drama and action chugging along at a pace that held my interest even on multiple viewings.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Brother Orchid – 1940

brother orchid

This one’s a comedy crime drama that can’t quite seem to decide whether it wants to be more comedy or more lighthearted drama. While you don’t get a great Bogart fix, Director Bacon does get a lot out of Edward G. Robinson and the wonderful Ann Sothern.

The standout of the film for me, Sothern has a wonderful moment in the film during a scene after she hangs up on a phone call with Robinson. She slowly sits back in her seat, lightly biting her bottom lip. Director Bacon and Sothern do a great job with that small moment of satisfaction.

Plus, it’s the only movie, out of the five that they made together, that neither Robinson nor Bogart dies!  You can check out my original post on the film here.

Action in the North Atlantic – 1943

action

My favorite film from their collaboration, this one is probably most notable for Bacon as he was dismissed with a quarter of the filming left due to the fact that he couldn’t agree on a new contract with Warner Bros. He was replaced by Byron Haskin, but you don’t notice any obvious shift in the final act.

Although it could easily be considered a WWII propaganda film, Action in the North Atlantic does a fine job of transcending the clichéd patriotism that we might expect from a film like this, and gives us a lot more character depth and nuance than most propaganda films can muster.

Bacon makes some bold choices in direction – especially in regards to some longer scenes on the German U-boat where the viewer can go several minutes only hearing German. There is clearly a lot of trust on the part of Director Bacon that we’ll be able to understand the gist of the scenes even though no English is used, and it works well. The scenes effectively elevate the tension as the viewer begins to understand a little German shorthand for what’s going on with the Nazi sailors.

Again, attributing all the directorial choices to Bacon may not be a safe bet as he was replaced by Haskins, but since he directed a majority of the film, I’ll give Bacon as much due as I can!

You can read my original post on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing section of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can read the rest of the write ups here.*

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