Screen Guild Theater – If You Could Only Cook – 1941

My Review

-A Little Too Light on the Comedy-

Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

The Lowdown

A frustrated car executive (Adolph Menjou) meets up with a unemployed secretary (Priscilla Lane) in the park and they pretend to be married so that they can get hired on as a cook and a butler for a big time gangster (Bogart).

What I Thought

This one’s an easy listen, but there’s not much meat on the bone, even for Classic Radio fans. While I’ve never seen the original film starring Jean Arthur, its positive reviews would lead me to believe that something was lost in the translation to radio. At a mere 30 minutes, the plot is pretty bare and any thought of character development seems to have been tossed out the window.

Is it worth a listen? Maybe if you’ve got a long drive or flight and you’re a big fan of Priscilla Lane.

The Bogart Factor

Playing a foodie gangster, Bogart’s portrayal of Dan Nolin is not much more than a stock racketeer role that he could play in his sleep. While he gives it his all, the script doesn’t give him enough to make the role more than an amusing extended cameo. It’s mentioned at the end that he was out promoting The Maltese Falcon.

The Rest of the Cast

Priscilla Lane plays Joan, the unemployed secretary that pretends to be married so that she can get a job as Bogart’s cook. As I said before, there’s very little here for the cast to work with. While Lane probably has the meatiest role in the whole production, her motivations for wanting to work for a gangster and for falling in love don’t really get time to add up. That said, Lane is talented enough to make the most out of this small part and it’s not hard to see why the men in the production would find her so cute.

Adolph Menjou plays the frustrated car executive James. Perhaps the film version spends a little more time explaining Jim’s motivations for disappearing from his job (nobody seems to notice) and leaving his fiancee for days leading up to their nuptials (again, apparently unnoticed) when it merely seems like he’s having a bad day. He falls in love. Why? His fiancee is supposed to come off as a real shrew, you know, because she called him at work once.

Roger Pryor hosts the show and plays Bogart’s gangster sidekick, Flash. Normally this type of role would be comic relief, but in a light comedy where the main gangster is already playing for comic relief, Pryor doesn’t have much to do but say lines that could have been given to Bogart.

The Bottom Line

Not a complete waste of time, but probably only entertaining for die hard Priscilla Lane or Bogart fans.

Breakdowns and Blowups

Breakdowns

My Review

—Some Good Chuckles and Lots of Great Personality—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

1 Bogie

The Lowdown

Outtakes from some of Hollywood’s greatest films with many of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

What I Thought

So apparently every Christmas, Warner Brothers would host an employee party and one of the treats was a special blooper reel cut together from the year’s previous films. The notion of “outtakes” is nothing new to modern day cinema enthusiasts, as many current DVD’s actually include deleted and flubbed takes as bonus content. Some comedies even include them in the closing credits.

So what’s so special about these? Quite a bit, actually.

Unused film was rarely kept – or kept in well condition, so anything that hit the cutting room floor in Classic Hollywood often also ended up in the cutting room trash can. Add into the mix that professionalism and preparedness was a coveted commodity among actors, and the outtakes from the Classic Hollywood era have a much different feel and tone to anything we’ll see as bonus content nowadays.

Especially during Bogart’s run, World War II put the squeeze on money and supplies for the entire country, Hollywood included, so film stock was too valuable to waste. With electric power being rationed out and cut off in the evening because of potential air raids, it’s easy to understand that the old adage time is money meant a little more back then. (One outtake from 1949 even includes the director yelling at Danny Kaye, only slightly seriously, about wasting film stock.) As the years go on, the actors and crews seem to loosen up quite a bit.

Many of the bloopers in these collections involve angry cursing from the actors after flubbed lines. “Goddamn it!” and “Son of a bitch” seem to be the two favorite epitaphs of most of the actors. Save for some light hearted actors like James Cagney, none of these performers seem all that amused by their mistakes. In fact, the Breakdowns’ editors do most of the comedic heavy lifting as they add in occasional sound effects (raspberries and goofy bells), and play around with the footage at the expense of the actor’s performance.

If I had to hazard a guess, the modern advances in film technology that have brought us into the digital age are a big factor in what’s made current day outtakes so readily available, and apparently more enjoyable from the actor’s point of view.

Not must sees by any stretch of the imagination, but getting to hear Jimmy Stewart say “Son of a bitch. . .” in that soft and simple laid back manner will make you glad you gave these Breakdowns a watch.

The Bogart Factor

His most enjoyable outtakes for me were from 1938’s Swing Your Lady, where he actually seems to be enjoying himself despite the mistakes.

From what I could tell, here’s a rundown of the films that Bogart outtakes appear from:

Breakdowns of 1936Bullets or Ballots, and Two Against the World

Breakdowns of 1937China Clipper

Breakdowns of 1938 – Swing Your Lady

Breakdowns of 1939 You Can’t Get Away with Murder, Dark Victory

Breakdowns of 1940 – The Roaring Twenties

Breakdowns of 1941 – ­ The Wagons Roll at Night

Breakdowns of 1942 The Big Shot

Breakdowns of 1944 – To Have and Have Not, Conflict

Blowups of 1946The Big Sleep

Blowups of 1947 Key Largo

Blowups of 1949 – Key Largo

The Petrified Forest, High Sierra, and a couple other Bogart films are featured sans Bogart flubs.

The Cast

Barton MacLane cracks up just as angrily as the characters he plays on screen!

Edward G. Robinson seems to be one of the few classic era actors that could have a little fun with a mistake, adding his own little raspberry sound to the end of flubs.

Bette Davis always seemed so composed in her Bogart collaborations that it’s kind of fun to see her lose her cool once in a while.

Allen Jenkins shows up in more than a few of the shorts, and I’ll never complain about getting to see some extra Jenkins! In the 1937 edition, enjoy watching him get goosed by an ironing board . . .

James Cagney is the one that really steals the show in most of these. Nearly every time he goofs up, he gives the camera a mischievous little smile as if he’s enjoying his outtakes more than he should! Plus, his waltz with George Raft when they should be fighting is so charming that it might just knock Raft up a few pegs on your likability meter.

Pat O’Brien comes second only to Cagney in having a pretty jocular attitude towards his line flubs, laughing most of them off. In the 1940 edition, it’s hard not to love the guy when he makes fun of his own toupee falling off!

Ronald Reagan . . . “Well that goddamned thing locked again.” Nuff said.

All I can say about Ann Sheridan is that if I would have been alive during her heyday, it would have wrecked me, wrecked me I tell ya, that I couldn’t have her. What a gal. So cute. So funny. All right, I need to go find a Sheridan film to pop in right now.

Jimmy Stewart has my favorite moment from any outtake when he slowly turns towards the camera after flubbing a line in Breakdowns of 1941 and says, “Son of a bitch . . .” So crazy to hear those words come out of his mouth in such a wonderfully resigned and cynical manner! Almost as good is his reaction after a scene in which the camera follows his exit when he wasn’t aware of it.

Director Edmund Goulding has a wonderful outtake as he slips into Joan Fontaine’s wardrobe for just a bit to show her how to act in Breakdowns of 1942.

Also appearing are George Brent, Paul Muni, Alan Hale, Miriam Hopkins, Claude Rains, Barbara Stanwyk, John Garfield, Gary Cooper, Fred MacMurray, Errol Flynn, Wayne Morris, and even Bogie Film Blog favorite Ben Welden! Plus, many, many more.

Danny Kaye will win you over and make you laugh in less than three seconds, guaranteed, in outtakes from 1949’s The Inspector General.

Classic Bogie Moment

Just try and tell me that this little moment of levity from a Key Largo outtake doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart:

Untitled

The Bottom Line

Lots of fun for any fan of classics.

The End Breakdowns

 

 

 

 

Racket Busters – 1938

Racket Busters Poster

My Review

—Ugh—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

1 Bogie

 

 

 

Director: Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown

A truck driver (George Brent) has to rally his fellow drivers when a gangster (Bogart) threatens to turn their union into a mob controlled racket.

What I Thought

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.

Director Lloyd Bacon is by no means a shoddy director. Working with Bogart on seven different films – Marked Woman, San Quentin, Racket Busters, The Oklahoma Kid, Invisible Stripes, Brother Orchid, and Action in the North Atlantic – this film is by far the weakest out of all of their collaborations together. And that’s saying something, considering how maligned The Oklahoma Kid has become for casting Bogart as a black hat villain against James Cagney’s white hat good guy. (Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, I really, really liked The Oklahoma Kid.)

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 Brent’s friend and mentor played by George O’Shea – you know, maybe just put him in a coma – our sympathies for Brent’s heroic revival might have been achievable.

As it is, I found it very challenging to root for Brent at all. I was just waiting for someone, including his main gal, played by Gloria Dickson, to stand up and shout, “Uh, thanks! But where you a few days ago when everyone wasn’t injured or dead?”

Am I being too hard on this film? Maybe. Maybe I’m just sore because Bogart is used in only the most basic and bland ways as the lead villain. But this one sure seems like a big misstep between an actor and a director that worked pretty well together.

The Bogart Factor

Playing gangster John ‘Czar’ Martin, this isn’t a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part for Bogart, but it’s not much more. He makes a brief appearance every once in a while in order to boss his goons around, but I’d be shocked if any of his scenes here last more than forty-five seconds.

Considering that this is another one of his tough-as-nails gangsters, you would think that it’d be a slam dunk to let Bogart do some of the heavy lifting with the beat downs and the gunplay. Instead, I think the most dramatic scene that he’s involved in before the final shootout involves a massage table and some snarky dialogue.

This one’s not a must see for anybody.

The Cast

George Brent plays Denny Jordan, our main truck driving protagonist. It’s no fault of Brent’s that this one is a lemon. He showed us some good stuff alongside of Bette Davis in Dark Victory and In This Our Life, but the script here completely fails him. On a positive note, he does a great job pulling off a more blue collar role than I’ve seen him in before.

Gloria Dickson plays Brent’s wife, Nora, and that’s about all you really need to know about this underwritten role.

Allen Jenkins is one of the few bright spots in the film, playing another trucker, ‘Skeets’ Wilson, who opens up his own tomato company during the trucking racket controversy. Still, the writers weren’t able to give a guy as amazing as Jenkin’s more than one or two mild laughs.

Bogie Film Blog favorite Penny Singleton plays Jenkin’s wife, Gladys. She’s another small bright spot in the film, but her part’s even smaller than Bogart’s.

Oscar O’Shea plays the truck driving foreman, Pops. O’Shea comes out the best here, as you’ll like his character so much by the time that he dies that you’ll want to give up on the film just for being so cruel. Yes, small spoiler there. But you need to prepare yourself for one of the dumbest script choices in Bogart’s filmography.

Fifteen time Bogart collaborator John Ridgely shows up for a tiny role as a truck driver who calls Brent “yellow.”

Classic Bogie Moment

There’s very little to pick from here, but Director Bacon has a mildly creative crime montage where Bogart is superimposed in the background, smoking and smirking. I guess it’s kind of interesting:

Racket Buster Classic

The Bottom Line

For Bogart completists only.

Never Say Goodbye – 1946

Never Say Goodbye Poster

My Review

—A Fun Flynn RomCom— 

Bogie Film Fix:

1 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  James V. Kern

The Lowdown

A divorced artist (Errol Flynn) tries to control his appetite for women while attempting to win back the heart of his ex (Eleanor Parker).

What I Thought

I’ve always made the argument that George Clooney must be an enormous Cary Grant fan – modeling so much of his onscreen persona after the classic leading man, but after watching Never Say Goodbye, I’m ready to add Errol Flynn to Clooney’s list of obvious influences.

This is the first Flynn film that I’ve seen where he didn’t play an action hero, and even though the movie never reaches much beyond light romantic comedy, Flynn’s charisma elevates it from watchable to entertaining. 

The best part of this script is that there is some question about how the rekindled romance between Flynn and Parker might resolve itself.  The addition of Forrest Tucker (Yes, F Troop!) as Corporal ‘Wickie’ is what really gets the juices rolling here and it adds a fun love triangle to the film.  Tucker’s timing mixed in with Parker’s doe-eyed act and Flynn’s exasperated frustration makes for some really fun scenes as Flynn does his best to prove his manhood.

Now throw in S. Z. Sakall, and you’ve got a cast that more than makes up for a clichéd script that, on occasion, borders on corny.

Definitely worth a watch, Never Say Goodbye might be a good primer film if you’ve got a significant other who likes romantic comedies and needs to ease into classic film with something gentler than Citizen Kane.

The Bogart Factor

My absolute favorite Bogart cameo so far, when Flynn is attempting to scare off the robust Corporal ‘Wickie,’ he dons a gangster disguise and pulls out a tough guy accent.  The catch?  The accent isn’t really an accent – Bogart has overdubbed a good three or four minutes of Flynn’s dialogue with his own exaggerated gangster brogue!

Never Say Goodbye Bogart

Bogart was simply the best when it came to self-depreciating cameos, playing up the dumb tough guy angle to the hilt, and hearing his voice come out of Flynn’s disguised mug is a real treat.  Several online sites don’t do justice to how long Bogart’s voice cameo runs, and I would say that its length alone makes this film a must see for any Bogart diehards.

The Cast

Errol Flynn plays the philandering artist, Phil Gayley, a womanizer who’s trying his best to avoid temptation in order to win back his ex-wife.  The role is so Cary Grant-ish that I’m amazed it wasn’t played by Cary Grant.  And while Flynn is not Grant, he’s no slouch at playing the impish cad-about-town that’s still charming and likable despite the fact that he can’t keep himself on the monogamy wagon.  If you’re a Flynn fan at all and you haven’t seen this one yet, it’s worth it.  Tons of screen time, tons of charisma, a great relationship with his onscreen ex-wife and daughter, Flynn was a true movie star that knew how to command the big screen.

Eleanor Parker plays Ellen Gayley, Flynn’s ex-wife, and the mother of his precocious little daughter.  Parker does very well here, and while it’s not all that deep of a role, she’s gorgeous, charming, funny, and holds her own against Flynn in every scene they share.  Her semi-phony flirtations with Corporal ‘Wickie’ work so well that I wouldn’t have been upset if they’d ended up together at the end.  They certainly set up Flynn to either succeed or fail in his re-wooing of Parker, and much of the credit for any romantic tension goes to Parker’s ability to keep us guessing as to who she really wants to fall in love with.

Patti Brady plays Flynn and Parker’s young daughter, Phillippa ‘Flip’ Gayley, and while I haven’t mentioned her yet in this post, it’s not because of anything that she’s lacking as a performer.  Brady is one of the better child actresses I’ve seen, and her tête-à-têtes with Flynn over ice cream and Christmas presents are some of the more touching moments of the film.  It was interesting to see how times have changed while watching Brady wander away from home to meander around Central Park alone without any adult supervision.  Then, Flynn shoes her away to go home alone, an elementary aged girl on the streets of New York, without a fear in the world!

Forrest Tucker is one of the real highlights of this film as Cpl. Fenwick ‘Wickie’ Lonkowski.  A good natured lunkhead with a heart of gold, Tucker makes the usually virile Flynn look like an out of shape bum.  I’m glad they went with someone who had such great comedy chops to stand against Flynn rather than just trying to match his charisma with another hunky actor.

S. Z. Sakall plays restaurant owner, and Flynn’s good friend, Luigi.   Sakall has quickly become one of my favorite character actors, doing a wonderful job with his ‘flustered foreigner’ roles, and his interrogation scene with the police is one of the funniest scenes from the film.  It’s always great to see him pop up in slightly larger roles like this one.

And then there’s Hattie McDaniel as Brady’s nanny, Cozy.  It’s another typical servant role for McDaniel, but doggone it if I don’t want to hug that woman every time I see her.

Classic Bogie Moment

“Hello, squirt.  Where’s ya mudder?” 

The Bottom Line

Worth a watch for the cast alone.

Virginia City – 1940

Virginia City Poster

My Review

—Lots of Fun, If a Bit Overindulgent—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

Full Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Union officer Kerry Bradford (Errol Flynn) escapes from a confederate prison with two friends (Alan Hale and Guinn Williams) only to later bump into his old Confederate captor, Vance Irby (Randolph Scott), in Virginia City. Irby’s trying to obtain millions of dollars in gold bars for the Confederates, and Bradford’s mission is to stop him. All the while, a young saloon dancer (Miriam Hopkins) comes between them.

What I Thought

Virginia City is a fun old school western with great performances by all the actors (save one . . .), and plenty of tension to keep you hooked until the end.

With a running time of slightly over two hours, Director Michael Curtiz probably could have shaved off about twenty minutes with a few less horse chases and saloon scenes, but that’s a small complaint to have in an otherwise good film.

I thought Curtiz did a great job of making both sides of the conflict over the gold seem sympathetic. Heck, I was even rooting at points for Bogart’s poorly cast (I’ll get to it later…) Hispanic outlaw, John Murrell. Errol Flynn looks to be at his physical best, and while I don’t think that he had as much chemistry with Miriam Hopkins as Randolph Scott did, the love triangle they set up is works well enough to keep you guessing until the end.

It’s a fan friendly film, so even the Confederates don’t really lose out in the end. Having an outside antagonist in Bogart helped make Flynn and Scott’s relationship of mutual respect grounded and believable as they eventually they got team up to do the right thing with the gold.

Very watchable, although not a must see for Bogart fans, Virginia City is a great taste of Errol Flynn’s charismatic power.

The Bogart Factor

Let’s cut to the chase . . . why in the world did they go with the Mexican accent?!? His name is John Murrell – couldn’t they have made him an ex-pat? Especially since they were going to stand him next to REAL MEXICANS for the entire film.

It’s not a big part, and at times you’ll find yourself laughing for the wrong reasons. Bogart would have made a much stronger showing if they’d let him play the role a little closer to the bad guy he portrayed in The Oklahoma Kid.

Not to say that there’s nothing of value here. Bogart’s first scene where he attempts to rob the stagecoach with Frank McHugh, Errol Flynn, and Miriam Hopkins aboard is a fun way to introduce his character. He also has a decent scene (if you can ignore the accent) with Randolph Scott as they strike a mutually beneficial deal while Bogart gets a bullet wound treated.

It’s just the wrong, wrong, wrong movie for Bogart to be in. The part’s small. The accent was a terrible choice. And putting him next to Flynn and Scott accentuated his slight stature in a way that shocked me despite having seen almost all of his films by now! Not his greatest showcase.

Virginia City was shot concurrently with It All Came True, and that might explain a little bit about why Bogart’s part is so small. . .

The Cast

Errol Flynn plays Union soldier Kerry Bradford. Flynn was born and bred to be an action hero, and he commands every frame of any scene that he’s in. Is it his best role? Probably not, but he portrays a much more three-dimensional cowboy than most Westerns of this era were able to pull off. He could ride, he could shoot, and he could get the women! Is there anything that Flynn couldn’t do?

Randolph Scott plays Flynn’s Confederate nemesis, Vance Irby. Scott and Flynn worked really well together in this film as every conversation between them seemed charged with tension. I liked Scott a lot here, and as I’m unfamiliar with most of his filmography, I’ll need to check him out a bit further.

Miriam Hopkins plays the Confederate spy Julia Hayne. Falling in love with both Scott and Flynn, I thought Hopkins did a great job in the role despite getting a bit razzed by critics at the time. She does a wonderful job of portraying a woman who’s torn between fulfilling her duty and following her passion.

Alan Hale and Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams play Flynn’s sidekicks, Moose and Marblehead respectively. I loved these two guys in this film, and they create so much of the comic relief that it’d be an entirely different movie without them. It’s a true showcase of how to use supporting actors to elevate the quality of a film.

Frank McHugh, a Bogie Film Blog favorite, shows up as Mr. Upjohn, a very nervous man who gets robbed on the stagecoach with Flynn and Hopkins. Any moment that you can get with McHugh on screen always delivers, and this is no exception!

Classic Bogie Moment

Well, with another small part playing a two-dimensional bad guy, at least that means we get a good death scene, right?

Virg City Bogart Death

The Bottom Line

This one is at the bottom of the Bogart bucket, but it’s a must see for Classic Western and Errol Flynn fans!

Angels With Dirty Faces – 1938

Angels with dirty faces

My Review

—A Must See Cagney Film—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

Full Bogie out of 5 bogies!

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Two childhood friends (James Cagney and Pat O’Brien) grow up and go down very different paths after a run-in with the police. One becomes a gangster, and the other a priest.

What I Thought

This film was one of the biggest gaps in my Bogart / Classic Film knowledge. I’ve read a lot about it, had it recommended numerous times, and have even come close to actually viewing it on occasion, but this was the first that time I’ve seen it in its entirety.

Did it live up to the hype? For the first hour – no. Not that I thought it was bad, because it’s actually very good. Cagney is amazing, and my appreciation for him continues to grow. It’s the first Pat O’Brien film I’ve seen so far where I thought that he really got to play a 3-dimensional character, and now I’m starting to understand what all the fuss is about. Plus, I got a little dose of Ann Sheridan, which is always a good thing!

I just didn’t think it was as good as everyone had told me. Up until the last fifteen minutes of the film I was ready to rank this one just below The Roaring Twenties. The script is good, but not great. Director Michael Curtiz does a fine job, but it’s a far cry from Casablanca. And then there’s the fact that Bogart is hardly in the film despite high billing and lots of presence in the advertising.

Then I got to the ending . . . wow.

Without giving anything away (in case you’re also behind on seeing this film), Cagney’s final scene is so powerful that I’m still reeling from it two days after watching the film. The movie certainly didn’t have to end that way. It could have gone with a more audience-friendly finish. Yet Curtiz, Cagney, and O’Brien take what was a good film and elevate it to great with just the last fifteen minutes.

I’ll save my praise for Cagney until later in this post, but if you aren’t haunted by his final moments in this film (where we see nothing but Cagney’s hands!), then you might want to double check whether or not you have a soul. Supposedly Cagney played his final scene with enough ambiguity that the audience wouldn’t know exactly why he was saying what he was saying. Was it honest? Was it a show for his friend and for the press? The choice to play it that way was genius, and makes it my favorite moment of any film of Cagney’s I’ve seen.

The Bogart Factor

If you’re here for a Bogart fix, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The man is barely in it, and when he is it’s a horribly small and two-dimensional lawyer turned gangster character.

Bogart plays James Frazier, a lawyer who goes into business for himself as a racketeer after he swipes a hundred thousand dollars off of Cagney after Cagney is sentenced to a long prison stint. Most of the role is spent sniveling into a phone, or sniveling to his partner in crime (George Bancroft), or just plain sniveling for his life from Cagney.

Bogart’s trying, but there’s literally nothing here to work with. Why have two crooks in Bogart and Bancroft? Why not just consolidate them into one role and give it a little more meat? It’s probably the biggest shortcoming of the script that we don’t get a better antagonist to work against Cagney’s attempt at creating a new criminal empire.

The Cast

James Cagney plays Rocky Sullivan, the small time hood who grows up to be a big time criminal. Cagney’s onscreen charisma is off the charts in every starring role that I’ve seen, and perhaps there needs to be a Cagney Film Blog somewhere down the road. He more than capably pulls off an incredible amount of likability from the audience even while we watch him do some pretty lowdown things to his friends and the kids he begins to mentor. Perhaps the gift that I appreciate the most is the fact that you can always see Cagney’s mind racing, as if he’s thinking one or two steps ahead of the current plan, racing his mind to cover all the bases. This is great, great, Cagney. And like I mentioned earlier, his delivery of his final lines is so emotionally painful, it’s a rare thing for a movie from this era to disturb me so deeply.

Pat O’Brien plays Father Jerry Connolly, Cagney’s childhood friend and former fellow hoodlum. After Cagney’s arrested and begins a life of crime, O’Brien’s Father Jerry finds the straight and narrow and dedicates his life to helping juvenile delinquents get a shot at a better life. After several films in which I really wasn’t a fan of O’Brien (China Clipper, San Quentin), I have to say that I was really impressed here. His character had a lot more nuance and subtext than the last two films, and O’Brien made me believe he was a man with a darker past. I admit that I was caught completely off guard when he slugged the patron at the bar for giving him a hard time. It was a realistic moment of fury that helped show the fine balance O’Brien was taking to toe the line between ex-criminal and clergyman.

Ann Sheridan plays Laury Ferguson, and GOOD GRIEF is she underused in this film. After falling in love with her in It All Came True, I was pretty anxious to see her in another leading lady role – but this ain’t it! There’s a few moments of promise at the beginning when she starts a relationship with Cagney, but after that, Sheridan is relegated to occasionally popping up to fret over the men of the film and try not to look out of place even though she has little to do. I’m going to have to keep searching for another great Sheridan role I guess . . .

George Bancroft plays Bogart’s partner in crime, Mac Keefer. There seems to be a little more depth here than what Bogart got to play with, but not much. I liked Bancroft and his team of thugs, but I never really bought that any of them were a real threat to Cagney.

The “Dead End” Kids basically play themselves. They are one of the strongest points of the film, and they all get a little more time to shine than they did in Crime School, as their screen time is divided up a little more evenly and Billy Halop doesn’t take all the good lines. What’s most entertaining to me is that this is apparently the film where Bogart finally got fed up with their bad behavior after they stole some of his pants and lobbed fire crackers at him. (Cagney supposedly smacked Leo Gorcy for adlibbing!) The boys are very charismatic, and add quite a few good moments of levity to the film.

Classic Bogie Moment

Not much to work with here! So I’ll just go with a pic that illustrates how no one could smoke like Bogie could smoke –

Angels classic

The Bottom Line

Even though Bogart gets shortchanged, you need to see this one just for Cagney’s performance!

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943

ThankYourLuckyStars

My Review

—Wonderful, Goofy Fun— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

Full Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  David Butler

The Lowdown

Two Hollywood dreamers (Joan Leslie and Dennis Morgan) crash a war effort variety show in order to get their music heard.

What I Thought

Much like Hollywood Victory Caravan, this is a film with a script that’s devised to move the plot along from one musical number to another. Fortunately for us, the script is pretty doggone good. Who knew that Eddie Cantor was the gatekeeper to making it in Hollywood? If you wanted a career, you apparently had to go through him!

We get songs from Jack Carson and Alan Hale, John Garfield, Dinah Shore, Ann Sheridan, Hattie McDaniel, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, and a few others. The production budget is big, the dances are great, and everyone seems to be having a really good time as dozens of celebrities make their short and sweet cameos along the way.

The stand out performance by far though, is Eddie Cantor playing a double role as himself and an aspiring actor who’s stuck driving a tour bus. The best part? The tour bus driver can’t stand his lookalike counterpart, and he’s disgusted when he has to imitate him.

If you like musical comedies, Classic Hollywood, or you just have a heartbeat, you’ll probably enjoy this film as an entertaining night of popcorn fun.

The Bogart Factor

Despite his high billing, Bogart doesn’t show up until an hour into the film, and even then he’s only onscreen for a minute or two. That being said, his minute or two is really great.  In a dark suit, snap brim hat, and five o’clock shadow, Bogart accosts one of the show’s producers (S. Z.  Sakall) about his part in the variety show. The producer, already at the end of a very long day, gives Bogart a tongue lashing like few others in film ever have. After the producer leaves, a security guard approaches Bogart and asks:

Security Guard:  Let the old man bulldoze ya, huh? 

Bogart:  (VISIBLY SHAKEN) Ya, dat ain’t like me. Gee, I hope none uh my movie fans hear about this . . .  (SLINKS AWAY MEEKLY)

Is it a must see? For the Bogart portion? No. But for the overall quality and fun of the film?  Yes.

The Cast

There are so many good performances to name here, so I’m just going to touch on the bigger roles . . . 

Eddie Cantor is the true star of the show as he plays himself and bus driver Joe Simpson. He capably pulls off playing both the egotistically narcissistic Hollywood star (as himself), and the goofy nobody who’s desperate for a shot in show business (as Simpson). Cantor grabs the most laughs throughout the film, and if you want a great snapshot of his style of comedy, this is a good movie to see it.

Joan Leslie plays Pat Dixon, an aspiring young song writer who’s willing to do anything to get her music heard by the world. Leslie is a lot of fun in the role, although it’s a kind of underwritten. She adds a nice little physical mannerism to Pat in that every time she starts to get a great idea, she tucks her head down and pounds on her temples. It’s also a lot of fun to see her impersonate James Cagney’s “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you. . .” speech from Yankee Doodle Dandy, considering that she’s the one who costarred with him in the film!

Dennis Morgan plays Tommy Randolph, the singer who wants to get out of the bush leagues and make it big. He does fine here, but it’s not really a role written to earn him leading man status. His character seems to exist to connect the dots between Joan Leslie, Eddie Cantor as the bus driver, and Eddie Cantor as himself. I will say that Morgan gets to show a little more depth here than he did in The Return of Doctor X though!

Edward Everett Horton and S. Z. Sakall play the two high strung producers of the variety show, Farnsworth and Dr. Schlenna. They serve their purpose well, and both men are so talented with comedy that I never tire of seeing them pop up in good roles.

I’m also a big Spike Jones fan, so if I didn’t give a mention to him and his band, I’d be deeply remiss. They deliver big with their short time in the film. Jones is one of those genius performers that I fear will eventually be forgotten with time.

For a better write-up on the song and dance numbers, you should check out @hollywoodcomet’s review of the film here.

Classic Bogie Moment

The reason that Bogart was so good at making cameos as himself was that he always seemed willing to play up his mythic persona to the hilt. Just look at this costume and that five o’clock shadow:

tyls

Is this how he went around Hollywood in his free time? Of course not. But it’s how we want to see him, and in almost all of his cameos, it’s how he appears. Thanks for keeping the dream alive, Bogie!

The Bottom Line

The cameo is short and sweet, but the film is worth a watch on its own merits!

Big City Blues – 1932

Big City Blues

My Review

—A Good Comedy Turns Ugly— 

Your Bogie Fix:

1 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Mervyn Leroy

The Lowdown

Small town boy Buddy Reeves (Eric Linden) takes a train bound for New York in order to follow his dreams, but it’s not long before his swindling cousin Gibby (Walter Catlett) lands him in hot water after they throw a party with tragic consequences.

What I Thought

This one was a must see for me since it was Bogart’s first film with Warner Brothers, the studio that would eventually turn him into a worldwide star.  With a running time of just over an hour, it’s a quick watch, which works in the movie’s favor as any more time spent with these two-dimensional characters would probably start to become a little taxing on the viewer.  While I did find a few good things to like about Big City Blues, it seemed like a film that was confused with its own genre.

Is Big City Blues a warm-hearted fish out of water story?  It certainly begins that way.  As we watch Buddy Reeves leave his dog behind and wander around the big city in search of the American dream, we can’t help but get a little caught up in his wide-eyed naiveté.  Two grandfatherly train station agents give Buddy a ribbing about his high hopes for New York and send him on his way with a pat on the back.  Then, when we meet his fast talking, money leeching cousin, Gibby, we’re ready to watch Buddy learn a few hard lessons about trust, before finally mastering the fine art of big city survival through a little earned cynicism.

Is Big City Blues a comedy?  Yes!  There are all sorts of great comedic moments, many stemming from the wonderfully funny character work done by Walter Catlett as Cousin Gibby.  This was a role that Catlett was born to play.  He’s a tornado of energy and bravado as he whirls through each scene, keeping the other characters spinning like plates in the air as he spews out one flattering lie after another in an attempt to garner as much cash and freebies as possible.  Throw in the two European waiters that sound exactly like an Andy Kaufman routine, the floozy party girl who bats at her own image in the mirror like a cat, and the drunken hotel detective, and you’ve got the makings of a great comedic ensemble.  The opening New York montage even feels like a much broader vaudeville-like series of sketches as we see construction workers and businessmen caught up in the Big Apple’s zany rat race.

Is Big City Blues also a graphically shocking tragedy where a horrific murder happens out of the nowhere and throws the rest of the movie into a depressing tailspin?  Uh . . . yep.  For about twenty minutes towards the end it is, and that’s where I found the biggest problem with the film.

The murder that occurs is so dreadful and out of sync with the rest of the movie that when Buddy valiantly predicts a return to New York in the end, it seems a little calloused and borderline sociopathic.  Really?  The murder of an innocent woman and Buddy’s near execution for someone else’s crime didn’t permanently scare him away?  He was able to shrug it off that quickly?

Okey-dokey . . .

Oh!  And I almost forgot to mention that the day is triumphantly saved when a man gruesomely takes his own life in a closet!  That’s how the case is finally closed so that Buddy and his friends can go free.  Thank goodness for suicide, right?  (And no, don’t stop to question the lackadaisical detective work done with the murder evidence!  No finger prints needed!  If the broken bottle fits, you must acquit!)

The Bogart Factor

Playing Shep Adkins, one of the party goers involved in the murder, Bogart gets a role that falls somewhere between cameo and bit part.  With perhaps ten lines of dialogue in the whole picture, he doesn’t get much time to shine.

That being said, what few lines he has are pretty good:

Bogart:  (READING THE PAPER) Nope, the old town ain’t what it used to be.  Look’it here now – cops grab a fella for a stick up.  He’s got two guns and a butcher knife in one pocket, and a powder puff and a lipstick in the other! 

And then when the party’s about to move to a nightclub, one of the women jokes that she should call home for permission:

Party Girl:  I should call my mother!

Bogart:  Quit your braggin’!  We all got mothers! 

At thirty-three years old, and at the very beginning of a long and storied career, Bogart looks young, vibrant, and ready to take on the world.  Just don’t go to the bathroom or you might miss his smiling face in this film!

The Cast

Eric Linden as Buddy Reeves is about as stereotyped a character as you can get for a small-town-boy-heads-to-the-big-city story.  That being said, he’s very likable, and most of the character’s flaws can be chalked up to weak writing.  The Aw, gee shucks routine does start to get a little old . . .

Walter Catlett is amazing as Cousin Gibby.  He’s so good at being a conniving sleaze that you just want reach through the screen and slap him.  Try not to smile the second time he says, “Just an old fashioned hitch!” 

Joan Blondell plays Vida, the showgirl that Cousin Gibby uses to con a little more money out of Buddy.  I know that we’re supposed to believe that she actually falls for Buddy a little bit, but I don’t know if I ever truly bought it.  It’s not Blondell’s fault, though.  She just doesn’t have much of a character in the script to work with.

Guy Kibbee portrays the drunken Hotel Detective and he plays the line between competent and bumbling just well enough to serve his purpose.

Classic Bogie Moment

Again, there wasn’t a lot to work with here, but there was one great moment towards the end where we get a little bit of classic Bogart when Shep Adkins refuses to give the proper gravity to a dire situation. The whole party crew has been rounded up at the police station to be grilled and possibly tried for murder.  While everyone mills around fretting, Bogart’s Shep leans over to Buddy and cracks, “Meant to ask you, Mr. Reeves.  Now how do you like New York?”  Pretty calm for a guy who could easily have been convicted as an accomplice for murder!

The Bottom Line

Not a must see unless you’re a completist, or perhaps a huge Joan Blondell fan.  A few good laughs, but largely forgettable.

Dark Victory – 1939

dark victory

My Review

—Pretty Good— 

Bogie Film Fix:

Full Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Edmund Goulding

The Lowdown

A rich, young socialite (Bette Davis) and the doctor (George Brent) that diagnoses her brain tumor fall in love and struggle with the knowledge that she only has a few months left to live.

What I Thought

While I always wish that this film had a lot more Humphrey Bogart, I keep falling more and more in love with Bette Davis, so I’ll forgive director Edmund Goulding for not slipping more Bogie into the movie.

Davis, who is almost always bubbly and energetic, even in her darker roles, begins this film downright frenetic.  She’s a self-absorbed party girl who spends her nights drinking with other wealthy, young, beautiful people, and her days scolding her Irish horse trainer (Humphrey Bogart).

What’s so good about Davis’ portrayal of Judith Traherne is that she’s able to slowly tone down her wild, selfish persona – bit by bit – throughout the movie until she’s almost subdued and grounded by the end of the film.  I say almost, because a complete transformation would have been too easy for the audience.  Goulding and Davis hold back the reins on Judith’s character development just enough that there’s still a little bit of that reckless, egotistical rich girl from the beginning of the film still fighting to get out at the end.

We watch, frustrated and disappointed, as Davis sends everyone good in her life away.  Why does she choose to face the end alone?  Why send her husband away?  Why her best friend?  Even the dogs?  She can’t even keep the dogs by her side?  Is she really helping the them, or is she too afraid to face their pain alongside her own?

To have ended with a crowd of loved ones surrounding Davis’ bed would have certainly been the easy way out for this film.  To let Judith face death unaccompanied stays true to her character, while at the same time piling enormous amounts of emotional weight onto the viewer.  This film leaves me struggling with sympathy and disappointment intertwined together, and I’m left unsatisfied in the best possible way.

According to A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax’s Bogart biography, Bogart, a happy ending was filmed for the movie wherein Bogart’s Michael O’Leary wins a race with Davis’ favorite thoroughbred.  The ending was deemed unnecessary though, as it didn’t flow well following the final death scene.  I’m impressed that they didn’t hedge their bets and go with the “safe” ending!

Bette Davis was deservedly nominated for her third Academy Award for this role.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart definitely makes the most of what little time he has in this film.  There’s a short scene at the beginning where he plays the charming rogue, teasing Davis about the worth of her favorite horse, and then a longer, more dramatic scene about three quarters of the way through the movie where he gets to have a wonderful moment in the horse barn with Davis as he learns about her imminent death.

Playing  a man named O’Leary, we’re “treated” to one of only two films that I can think of (the other being Virginia City) where Bogart puts on an accent.  Is it good?  Not really, but he wisely keeps it pretty well subdued throughout the picture so that it never becomes distracting.

What I found the most interesting was the turn that Bogart’s character takes when he finds out about Davis’ prognosis.  In the barn together, we can almost watch him slip from the wisecracking horse trainer into the familiar demeanor and tone of one of his bitter, world-weary, expatriate roles like Harry Morgan or Rick Blaine as he delivers one of the most powerful moments in the film:

Bogart:  I should have lived in the days when it counted to be a man – the way I like to ride and the way I like to fight.  What good’s ridin’ and fightin’ these days?  Whatta they get you?  What do they get ya?

The Cast

Bette Davis does admirably well considering her personal life was apparently in turmoil during the making of this movie.  I would guess that the dissolution of her marriage and the ensuing affair with costar George Brent is what makes her appear so much more passionate and agitated than usual onscreen.

I really liked George Brent as Dr. Fredrick Steele, and I need to check out the rest of his filmography to see what I’ve been missing.

Geraldine Fitzgerald does a great job counterbalancing Davis as the best friend, Ann King, and she is able to hold her own against the several other, higher profile, acting greats.

One of my favorite parts of this film is Ronald Reagan’s portrayal of Alec, Judith’s drunk, young, gad about friend.  Of all his early roles, this one always strikes me as the most charming and entertaining.  I’m not a huge Reagan fan, but he really does a great job here.

And then there’s the angel, Clarence, as Dr. Parsons – Judith’s personal physician!  It’s always fun to see Henry Travers on screen!

Classic Bogie Moment

Michael O’Leary appears a few times in a rumpled, well-worn, trench coat and fedora – a look that Bogart would go on to make iconic with his most famous character – Rick Blaine.

Did You Notice…

I usually don’t notice how much people smoke in these old films – until they do it in places that seem ludicrous to modern sensibilities.  Bette Davis smokes in the doctor’s office . . . with the doctor!  She smokes in her hospital room moments before surgery.  Doctors smoke in the doctors’ lounge.  If they only knew, right?

The Bottom Line

It’s a very good film, but not a super satisfying Bogart fix.

Midnight / Call It Murder – 1934

midnightcall it murder

My Review

—Decent— 

Your Bogie Fix:

1 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  – Chester Erskine

The Lowdown

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.

The Cast

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:  Kiss?

Fox:  No.

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.