A&E Biography – Bogart – 2003

biography-humphrey-bogart

Honorary Bogie Film Fix:

2.5 Bogie

The Lowdown

Perhaps television’s most entertaining and digestible history program chronicles Hollywood’s greatest legend.

What I Thought

Can you believe that this show has over 1,000 episodes?!? It started back in 1987 and it took until 2003 to do an episode on Bogart? Sometime when I have the time to search through hundreds of old episodes, I’ll check to see if this was merely an updated episode from a previous airing.

But on to the important stuff –

For the casual fan of Classic Hollywood, this episode of A&E’s long running bio-show hits all the major notes from Bogart’s life. They cover the struggle to make the leap from Broadway to Hollywood. They touch on how The Petrified Forest and High Sierra made him a household name. They cover the major directors (Huston and Hawks) who carved him into the star we love. They cover the Bacall love affair, marriage, and eventual children. And while they might underplay the severity of the situation, they even touch on Bogart’s work against the House Un-American Activities Committee. For the most part, it’s all here.

For anyone who’s read a Bogart biography or seen another biographical TV show, there’s nothing really new to latch onto. Certainly, anyone who’s read the Sperber/Lax, Kanfer, or Stephen Bogart bios will glean little unknown info here.

But that’s not to say that there aren’t some treats to be had.

Of all people, Art Linkletter shares some great insight into Bogart’s life as he spent some time as a next door neighbor.

Also, Stephen Bogart’s wistful recollection of his father’s final months is just as heartbreaking as one would imagine as he mentions not getting to see his father very often, and occasionally watching him being lowered to the main floor in the dumbwaiter when Bogart was too weak to walk the stairs. His stories are played over some rarely seen shots of the two together, and it put a lump in my throat.

The Cast of Interviewees

While Art Linkletter and Stephen Bogart might have been the standout interviews here, there’s no denying that it’s fun to watch and hear Roger Ebert speak when he was still somewhat healthy. Man, I miss Siskel and Ebert desperately.

John Huston’s ex Evelyn Keyes offers good insight, as well as film critic and writer Foster Hirsch. And I’d be remiss not mentioning the fun of getting to hear Martin Scorsese, perhaps Hollywood’s directorial Bogart-equivalent, wax on about Bogie.

The Bottom Line

Even if you’ve already got all the info from a dozen other sources, you’ll still probably enjoy this episode of Biography. If you’ve got a long plane ride and you can find it on YouTube, there are worse ways to pass the time!

 

Stand-In -1937

Stand In Poster

My Review

—It Has It’s Moments— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2.5 Bogie

Director:  Tay Garnett

The Lowdown

A by-the-book accountant (Leslie Howard) audits a Hollywood movie studio and is wooed by a former child star (Joan Blondell).

What I Thought

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes some of the key symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome as “poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, an intense interest or fascination with specific topics, and physical clumsiness.” While behavioral science was still decades away from coining the name for the condition, Director Tay Garnett and film star Leslie Howard created a character who so perfectly exhibits the symptoms, it’s like they had a textbook from which to work.

Howard’s Atterbury Dodd is a classic case of Asperger’s if there ever was one.

He is consumed with numbers to the point that he believes all of life can be broken down as if it’s an equation waiting to be solved.  He so lacks empathy with others during conversations that he can hardly recognize the chaos he creates around himself – missing obvious social cues and/or revealing unfortunate blunt truths that most people would keep to themselves. He’s also a walking-accident as he fumbles, bumps, falls, gets walked upon, and even gets tossed over the shoulder of the young lady who’s trying to woo him.

So to what does all this lead? A man who’s so obsessed with the numbers in his head that instead of picking up on the flirtations of the young, blonde, former child star in front of him, he judo-throws her over his shoulder and against the wall. Oh, don’t worry, she doesn’t hold it against him – after all, with such a lack of able bodied men in Hollywood, a lady can’t be picky, right?

And therein lies the main problem with this film. The love story at the heart of the plot, which is meant to create the emotional core for the entire story, is just not believable.  What in the world does Joan Blondell’s administrative assistant see in Leslie Howard’s oblivious accountant? He’s handsome. Oh, and then there’s . . . well, he’s handsome, I guess.

Howard’s accountant only cares about the studio’s bottom line, never minding for a second the hundreds of employees that make their living from the films that are being made. He ignores anything resembling a compassionate thought, only displaying any desire or emotion whatsoever while making an attempt to court a ditsy Hollywood starlet (Marla Shelton) who’s only playing him for her boss (C. Henry Gordon).

To be fair, I’m being pretty hard on what’s meant to be a harmless romantic comedy. Lots of great character actors are solid in their supporting roles, and Bogart is quite good in a smaller supporting role, but shouldn’t a romantic comedy at least be built upon believable chemistry between its stars?

Not a must see by any means unless you’re a die hard Howard, Blondell, or Bogart fan. All three of them have some good bits sprinkled throughout the film, but the script just doesn’t do enough to support them.

The Bogart Factor

Playing movie producer Doug Quintain, Bogart has probably the most realistic and interesting character in the entire film. An occasionally boozy movie exec with a thing for the leading lady (Marla Shelton) of his current cinematic disaster, Bogart is a reluctant ally to Howard’s intrusive accountant – fully aware that the hopes and dreams manufactured for the silver screen by his studio are being propped up with nothing more than the flimsiest of set dressings.

Quintain is mired up to his shoulders in the silliness of Tinsel Town, but his deep passion and appreciation for the business, and the people who work within it, make him fight until the end to keep the studio afloat.

It’s a solid outing for Bogart, so while the film is probably not a must see for casual fans, those who love Bogie’s comedic side will find some good stuff here.

The Cast

Leslie Howard plays Atterbury Dodd, the aforementioned math-obsessed accountant. Howard’s good in the role, fussily obsessed with the minutia of Hollywood bookkeeping (And what the heck is the deal with the ashtrays?  Such a wonderful quirk for Howard and Director Garnett to add!), but as I stated earlier, all of his chemistry with Joan Blondell suffers because, well, people who don’t feel empathy have a hard time garnering sympathy. It’s hard to understand why Blondell is in love with him. It’s hard to understand why he finally returns the affections for a woman that he cannot identify with.

That said, there are a few really great scenes in the film between Howard and Blondell, and between Howard and Bogart. When Blondell tries to teach Howard judo, we get perhaps the greatest laugh in the film. And when Howard finally teams up with Bogart to save a movie production, it’s the camaraderie that we’ve been waiting for since the beginning of the movie.

Also, the scene at the end where Howard is literally overrun by unemployed studio laborers, only to finally learn how to talk humanely to his fellow man, is handled very well, and it’s one of the few moments of believable character growth that we’re given for his Dodd.

Joan Blondell plays former child star Lester Plum, who spends her days in this film as a stand-in for Marla Shelton and as an administrative assistant to Howard’s accountant. Other than the complete lack of logic behind her attraction for Howard’s character (he tossed her across the room for goodness sakes!), Blondell does a great job as the spunky girl-next-door who sees the humanity behind the Hollywood machine. Blondell is super cute, garners what little pathos the film’s clunky plot can muster, and is able to create laughs even when the script falls flat. Plus, her dictation scene with Howard is hands-down the best moment of the film.

Bogie Film Blog favorite Jack Carson plays the buffoonish publicist Tom Potts. I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but Carson actually achieves a level of obnoxiousness that left me disliking his character. Not that he did a bad job!  Actually, I think it’s a credit to his acting skill that he was able to make himself unlovable despite how gosh darn likable he always tends to be in every film! A great showing by a great character actor.

Alan Mowbray does a wonderful job as a thick-accented wannabe auteur, Koslosfski. If anything, the film could have benefited from a few more scenes as good as the one in which he pitches a fit over using artificial flowers on a back lot ski slope film set.

Maria Shelton plays the leading lady in Bogart’s horrible film, Miss Cheri. It’s an uphill battle for Shelton to get any attention here as she’s tasked with acting next to Bogart, Howard, Blondell, and the wonderfully over-the-top Alan Mowbray, so there’s not much room for her to shine here, but she does fine establishing herself as the pampered diva.

Henry Gordon plays Nassau, the businessman who’s trying to swindle his way into getting Howard to sell him the movie studio at a greatly reduced price. Again, not a huge role, but Gordon does well in establishing his character.

Classic Bogie Moment

GetAttachment

This look of death says it all, doesn’t it? There’s a desperate madman in there somewhere, always ready to spring out.

The Bottom Line

Worth a watch if it pops up on TCM, but probably not worth going out of your way to find on Amazon for thirty or forty bucks!

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse – 1938

Amazing Dr C Poster

My Review

—Worth a Watch—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Anatole Litvak

The Lowdown

A wealthy physician (Edward G. Robinson) moonlights as a gangster to do research on the criminal mind.

What I Thought

Go ahead and get all the giggles out over the name of the film. Yes, even Bogart referred to this movie with a less than flattering parody of the title. (For those of you who are Seinfeld fans, it rhymes with ‘Delores.’)

What we have here is a pretty entertaining dark comedy that tends to err more on the side of dark and less on the side of comedy, but other than that, I really have no complaints about the film. I think casting Robinson and Bogart as two of the leads lends a little more gravitas to the script than was originally intended. Even though both men could play comedy very well, it’s easy to forget that there are laughs to be had during this film until some over-the-top slapstick or hijinks ensue.

Director Anatole Litvak spent most of his career doing heavy drama, and perhaps that touch was hard to leave behind for a more ‘comedic’ film, but Litvak’s still a very capable director and he gives us a lot of great shots of some of Hollywood’s most interesting faces. Was it his choice to have Robinson and Bogart play their roles straighter than the original play? I don’t know. Regardless, it doesn’t completely spoil the fun, and it’s still a must see for Robinson fans.

The Bogart Factor

It’s not a huge part for Bogart, but he nails it. Playing ‘Rocks’ Valentine, we see the two-dimensional gangster that Bogart was often assigned for his minor antagonist characters, and yet he still elevates the material like only he can.

It seems to be a trend in Bogart’s bad guys that, once again, he’s the only one in the gang who’s aware that something’s not right. He doesn’t trust Robinson’s intentions, but no one will believe his doubts. And so for about the fourth or fifth movie, everyone who might have survived in the end is dead because they didn’t listen to Bogie!

While the script doesn’t give Bogart a lot to work with, he makes sure to add his own flourishes so that ‘Rocks’ makes a big impact. I’ll rest my case on the Classic Bogie Moment below . . .

The Cast

Edward G. Robinson is great here as Dr. Clitterhouse. Yes, I wish that he’d been a little less thoughtful and subdued so that more comedy could have seeped into the role, but the guy is just so doggone watchable onscreen that it’s hard to criticize anything he does. He gets to have some great scenes with both Claire Trevor and Bogart – especially their final confrontation together in his office. If you’re a Robinson fan and you haven’t heard about it yet, you should check out this Spanish blog by Gonzalo. He’s posting on Robinson in a similar vein to The Bogie Film Blog. (I use Google translate since I don’t speak Spanish.)

Claire Trevor plays Jo Keller, the jewel fence that Robinson turns to when he needs to move some diamonds. Trevor is a lot of fun here, and a great double bill would be to watch The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse back to back with Key Largo in order to enjoy Trevor, Robinson, and Bogart taking on wonderfully varied roles. Trevor’s unrequited pining for Robinson is great as we truly believe she’s fallen in love with the mind behind the man.

Donald Crisp plays Inspector Lane, the investigating officer into Robinson’s heists. I thought the chemistry between Crisp and Robinson was great, and their scenes as good friends were especially well done. It leads to a great climactic finish when the arrest is finally made. Crisp and Robinson also share some really good scenes in Brother Orchid as well, and I need to do a cross reference and see if they did any more films together.

Max ‘Slapsie Maxie’ Rosenbloom plays Claire Trevor’s right-hand man, Butch, and he’s very good in the role. Perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film, I was probably more worried about Butch’s outcome than any other character!

A number of other great character actors fill out Bogart’s gang, most notably is Bogie Film Blog favorite Allen Jenkins as Okay. He spends most of his screen time mugging around with Max Rosenbloom, and it’s another solid performance for Jenkins. I’m anxious to see the rest of his Bogart films so that I can add Jenkins to The Usual Suspects!

Classic Bogie Moment

If you’re going to get held up and forced to be the front for a criminal empire, wouldn’t you prefer to have it done in style by this man?

Bogart Amazing Dr Classic

The knee over the arm of the chair is the perfect choice! One of the little flourishes that Bogart adds to the role to elevate it above a typical thug.

The Bottom Line

There’s enough to enjoy from both Robinson and Bogart to make up for anything lacking in the script or tone.

The Barefoot Contessa – 1954

Barefoot Contessa PosterMy Review

—A Good Film with a Few Hiccups—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

The Lowdown

A millionaire playboy (Warren Stevens) hires a has-been film director (Bogart) to find a fresh new face (Ava Gardner) from Spain and put her in a film. Thus begins a real life fairytale in which the young actress skyrockets to enormous fame and many different loves, but cannot leave her past behind.

What I Thought

Whatever faults you might find with this film, the opening nightclub scene was directed to perfection by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Especially considering that the real magic occurs before Bogart and his two cohorts even enter the room. We are set up wonderfully to witness not the star of the show – Ava Gardner playing Maria Vargas – but the effect that this woman has on everyone who comes into contact with her.

Maria, we are told, is a dancing phenomenon. But we’re not here to watch Maria. We’re here to watch the crowd as they watch Maria. The camera jumps around the room to show smitten couples, a heartsick busboy, love-struck young men, love-struck old men, and broken hearted romances as they all watch with rapt attention as Maria dances. Not once do we ever see Maria dance. Was Gardner even dancing? Of course not! She didn’t have to. I have no idea what Director Mankiewicz was having his crowd watch, but I whole heartedly believed that they were watching the most entrancing and entertaining thing that they’d ever seen.

There’s a really good heart and soul lying somewhere underneath the surface of this film. It’s the story of a woman who gets to live out a series of fairytale dreams, only to have them fall apart one after the other. All the while, a distanced Hollywood movie director (Bogart) watches from the sidelines, fully aware that fairytales only exist in show biz, and worried that eventually this little princess that he’s befriended is going to wind up without a happy ending.

It’s a great concept, and for quite a few scenes in the film Director Mankiewicz is able to pull off moments of compelling relationships, beautifully orchestrated shots of some of Hollywood’s most beautiful people, and some decent tension as Bogart does his best to shepherd Gardner’s naïve Spanish dancer to a better life than what we all know is probably in store at the end.

So why did I have a hard time emotionally investing with the end of the film?

It’s a little too long, sure. Gardner’s three rich suitors are all written more as two-dimensional plot points than fully developed characters. And perhaps my biggest hang up – I think the script was a little lopsided. This was the second that time I’d seen the film, and maybe I need one more viewing to really make up my mind, but I thought the “contessa” side of Maria was far more convincing than the “peasant gypsy” part of her that we were led to believe she couldn’t leave behind.

I think the main crux of my problem was the fact that we spent too much time with Maria’s affluent lifestyle and too little time with the private affairs she had with the gardeners and busboys that she was really in love with. Maybe getting rid of one of the wealthy rich men, and instead using that time to explore a relationship with the gypsy dancer from the camp dancing scene would have helped? I don’t know.

Regardless, this is a very watchable film, and while it might not be a must see for Bogart fans, there’s plenty to enjoy with the film’s talented cast and great direction.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart plays down-on-his-luck movie director Harry Dawes. Much like the recently reviewed Stand-In, Bogart plays the one character in the entire film that seems to be detached enough from reality that he can see the whole picture. While the rest of the world spins wildly around him, Dawes calmly walks through its midst, observing and occasionally pulling some strings to try and get fate to swing in the right direction.

In a rare turn, Bogart isn’t the romantic lead – he’s the father figure. He even goes so far as to refer to himself as more of a godfather to Maria, and the role suits him very well. Perhaps his most well developed “nice guy” role that I’ve seen so far, his affection and caring for Ava Gardner’s wounded Spanish dancer seems authentic and powerful.

All that being said – even though I love it when Bogart plays detached, I kind of wish we’d seen him emotionally break a little bit at the graveyard in the final scene. A tear? A nose wipe with a handkerchief?

It’s a subtle performance for sure, and perhaps my favorite moment comes when Bogart quietly counsels Edmond O’Brien at a party to finally make a stand against his boss. Bogart could play the puppet master beautifully, wasting no extra words or emotion to do his job well.

The Cast

Ava Gardner plays the dancer-turned-movie-star Maria Vargas. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of Gardner’s work, but I really liked her here. While I wasn’t completely sold that she was a simple Spanish girl from the wrong side of the tracks, it is fun to read that Gardner really did prefer to go barefoot through life, and the part does seem to be made for someone of her beauty and poise. When we finally see her dance in the gypsy camp, I was sold that this was a woman that other women wanted to be, and men wanted to be with.

Edmond O’Brien plays Oscar Muldoon, the fast talking “yes man” to whoever happens to be the wealthiest person in the room. Just charming enough to counter balance his own sleaziness, I thought O’Brien was so much fun in this film. I tend to find that a millionaire’s lackey usually becomes so tiresome and annoying in a film that I can’t stand them taking up even one more frame – but O’Brien captured exactly what must make those types of people appealing to the wealthy. He’s just smart enough, and just flattering enough, to make the greed that we all feel inside seem acceptable. Plus, O’Brien gets some of the very best one-liners during his portion of the film’s narration. I really want to check out more of his filmography.

Warren Stevens plays Kirk Edwards, the millionaire playboy who’s willing to throw cash around left and right in order to make a movie. He’s handsome, cocky, and authoritative enough that he leaves us both offended and in awe at the same time. He doesn’t deserve Maria! (And it’s very satisfying when he gets his comeuppance as she’s stolen away!) Out of all three of Maria’s suitors, I think he was the most fun to watch, especially his fall from grace when both his woman and his lapdog leave him during the big party scene.

Marius Goring plays Alberto Bravano, the wealthy South American that steals Maria away from Kirk Edwards. The film’s true antagonist, Goring does well in the role despite the fact that he’s the most underwritten of Maria’s three rich boyfriends.

Rossano Brazzi plays Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini, the final love for Maria in the film, and the man with whom she finally has a chance to find happiness. Out of all three of Maria’s rich suitors, Brazzi gets the best opportunity to develop his character and give some real meat to Maria’s faux-fairytale story. I liked Brazzi quite a bit, and while I thought that his turn at the end was a little too abrupt, I will hold that more against the script than the actor.

Classic Bogie Moment

Funeral. Trench coat. Rain. Detached sadness. Boom.

Untitled

These shots easily make the entire film worth it.

The Bottom Line

Good in many parts, but not great, I’ll give this one a watch any time it comes on TV.

Bullets or Ballots – 1936

bullets

My Review

—Good Gangster Fun— 

Your Bogie Fix:

2.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  William Keighley

The Lowdown

A cop (Edward G. Robinson) goes undercover to bust up the organization of a big time racketeer (Barton MacClane).

What I Thought

After the Legion of Decency and the Production Code Administration started to give movie studios a hard time for glorifying gangsters, Warner Brothers tried to earn a little absolution by letting some of their most famous bad guys flips sides.  Cagney was an FBI agent in G-Men, and Robinson is a cop here.

Considering that this film was made more as a response to outside pressure than it was about making an artistic statement, it’s actually a very entertaining piece of work.  I have to hand it to Warner Brothers, though.  They found a sneaky workaround for Edward G. Robinson to still be a gangster even though he was a cop – let him go undercover!  We still get the punches, kicks, and sneering insults that we’ve grown to love from Robinson’s mobster characters, but now he’s just pretending to be bad, right?

The plot is nothing extraordinary, as it’s a simple story of an honest cop willing to risk it all to stop the crooks.  The real heart of this film comes from Edward G. Robinson’s ex-cop, Johnny Blake, and the loyalties he tries to live by as he works for, and against, old friends.

Racketeer Al Kruger (Barton MacClane) is an old friend of Blake’s, and at one time, he’d even offered Blake a job in his organization.  Even though Blake turned him down, they were still able to remain cordial, despite the fact that they chose to live on opposite sides of the law.  When Blake’s fired from his police job for inefficiency, Kruger is on him in no time, ready to give him another shot within his gang:

Kruger:  Why, I’ve heard guys that you’ve sent to prison say that if you ever made a deal, you’d see yourself dead before you’d go back on it.

It turns out to be true.  Despite Kruger’s crimes, Blake later laments to his police captain (Joe King) that he has never given Kruger a fair shake to straighten out and fly right.  Blake is a man caught between his allegiances to friends, and his job to uphold the law.

Fortunately for all of us, Blake doesn’t have to make a choice on how to handle Kruger, as Kruger’s number two in command, “Bugs” Fenner (Humphrey Bogart), is a loose cannon with an itchy trigger finger.  Fenner doesn’t like Blake.  Fenner doesn’t like how much Kruger likes Blake.  And Fenner certainly doesn’t like the thought that Blake might be his replacement within the organization.

The best bad guys are the ones that are able to make even the other bad guys nervous, and that’s certainly what Bogart does in this picture.  He’s a coiled snake, waiting to bite anyone who looks at him the wrong way.  It sets up a wonderful tension that builds to a climactic breaking point where Robinson and Bogart battle it out with pistols on a staircase at the end of the film.

The Bogart Factor

You have to give “Bugs” Fenner credit in this movie.  Out of a couple dozen gangsters in a room, he was the only one that really seemed to know that Blake was still working for the cops.  I found myself wanting to yell at his fellow heavies multiple times to just shut up and listen to him for a minute.

Bogart is able to take a pretty clichéd gangster role and elevate it here.  His portrayal of Fenner is intimidating, ruthless, and downright chilling.  Even though I was pretty sure that Robinson was going to come out on top (doesn’t he always when Bogie’s the bad guy?), I was surprised by how much tension was built between the two men as Fenner relentlessly chased down Blake in an attempt to exact revenge.

It’s roles like this that make me understand why the studio thought they should keep Bogart typecast as the bad guy.  The parts may not have utilized his full potential as an actor, but he was dang good in them.

The Cast

Robinson is very good as the undercover cop who’s trying hard to keep his cool in the middle of a dangerous job.  This is one of the more physical roles that I’ve seen him in, as he had multiple fistfights, and even kicked out a gangster’s knee before knocking him across the jaw and then throwing him through a window.  For an actor who supposedly abhorred violence, he looked like a real action star.

I thought it was a treat to see Barton MacClane as the thinking man’s gangster.  I’m used to seeing him as the grumpy and grizzled sourpuss so often, that I was very impressed to see him playing such a likable bad guy here.  Definitely one of his best roles that I’ve seen so far.

Have I mentioned that Joan Blondell was in this movie yet?  No?  Well, there’s good reason for that.  She doesn’t have much to work with, as her role is small and insignificant, barely tying into the overall plot.  Even when she finds out that her good friend Blake has muscled in on her numbers racket, she seems to take it in stride, and waits to talk it out with him.  She doesn’t even get to play the love interest, as her only kiss comes with Bogart, and she slaps him silly for it.

Character actor Frank McHugh, who’s appeared multiple times on this blog so far, shows up as Blondell’s lackey.  He doesn’t have a big role here, but every time he’s onscreen, he steals the focus like no other.  He’s very gifted comic actor.

Classic Bogie Moment

Bogart was famous for paring down his lines to trim away the chaff and only say what needed to be said.  With one or two word sentences, he could communicate everything else with the subtext he would create with his tone and expressions.  One of the best examples of his ability comes in this film when Barton MacClane warns him to stay away from a crusading reporter named Bryant that’s trying to shut them down:

MacClane:  Go get yourself a drink and cool off.

Bogart: Okay.

MacClane:  And forget Bryant.

Bogart:  Sure.

The way he draws out both words – ooooh-kay and suuuuure – leaves us with no doubt that he’s nowhere near ready to “cool off” anytime soon.  Bryant’s days are most certainly numbered.

The Bottom Line

If you like gangster films, Edward G. Robinson films, or Bogart films, you’ll enjoy this one.  It’s good work by both men in a genre that they helped define.

Brother Orchid – 1940

brother orchid

My Review

—Decent—

Your Bogie Fix:

2.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown

A comedy crime drama that can’t quite seem to decide whether it wants to be more comedy or more lighthearted drama.

Edward G. Robinson is Johnny Sarto, mob boss and racketeer.  In the opening moments, we see Johnny explaining to his crew that he’s lost his stomach for the violence of mob life and wants out.  Seated at the table is Jack Buck, played by Humphrey Bogart, who’s next in line for the boss’ seat.

What follows is a five year trip to Europe for Johnny, as he leaves everything behind to find some “class and society.”  For some reason, he even decides to leave his longtime gal, Flo Addams (played by the wonderful Ann Sothern), behind – but at least he makes sure she gets a good job as a hatcheck girl in a nightclub.

Long story short, Johnny blows his fortune on a few swindles and bad deals across the ocean and comes home with his tail between his legs, ready to jump back into his old job.  The only problem?  His old employees don’t want him back.

After Bogart uses Sothern to trap Robinson into a failed assassination attempt, Robinson stumbles his way through the woods and winds up at The Floracian Monastery.  Figuring that the monastery would be a good place to lie low for ahwile, he becomes “Brother Orchid,” biding his time before making one last attempt at taking back his gang.

Robinson does a good job of playing the mobster with a good heart, but I personally think he does better with slightly edgier characters.  Sothern is perhaps the most fun part of the film and steals most of the scenes that she’s in.  Bogie is Bogie, and does the best he can with a small role.  Even though he’s third billed, Bogart’s really more of a fourth after being essentially forgotten for the last half of the film, as Donald Crisp’s “Brother Superior” takes over much of the screen time with Robinson.

Crisp, who appeared as Inspector Lane in The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, does well here as the pious mentor to Robinson’s slow-learning gangster.  The scene where Crisp sits with Robinson at the dinner table, after forgiving him for a string of mistakes that have hurt the monks, is especially well done and touching.

Rewatchable?  Sure.  It’s a fine vehicle for Robinson, and a great showcase for Sothern.  But if you’re specifically craving Bogart, you’ll probably pop in a film where he’s got a little more meat in the script.

The Great

Ann Sothern is such a treat!  Specifically, the scene where she pretends to be drunk in order to lure Robinson to a remote nightclub is especially fun.  She even carries on some drunken carousing with an imaginary suitor while on the phone with Robinson.  Sothern is light and charming, and turns what could have been a clichéd moll role into a fun character.  Check out the moment after she hangs up with Robinson in the nightclub as she slowly sits back in her seat, lightly biting her bottom lip.  Director Lloyd Bacon does a great job with that small moment of satisfaction.

The Good 

Ralph Bellamy’s rancher, Clarence Fletcher, has a lot of fun moments for his limited amount of screen time.  He and Sothern have good chemistry, and it is pretty satisfying to see them wind up together in the end.

Allen Jenkins, who plays Willie the “Knife,” has a fun moment or two in an asylum as he’s recruited back into the mob by Robinson.  The character really ends up going nowhere, but Jenkins appears in a number of other Bogart movies, so it’s always fun to see him pop up.

Classic Bogie Moment(s)

Bogart doesn’t get a ton of time to shine here, but a couple things popped out to me.

In Robinson’s opening speech to his gang, Bogart sits back in his chair, taking it all in, as he slowly taps and rotates a sharpened pencil on his leg – eraser, point, eraser, point.  A nice, menacing touch to a scene where he could have just sat passively by and listened.

And one of the subtlest, most satisfying bits of comedy comes when Sothern is asking if Bogart could possibly make up with Robinson.  Bogart replies, “Johnny don’t like me no more . . . makes me feel bad too . . .”  It could come off as pathetic, or creepy, or evil and conniving, but Bogart uses his great comedy chops to pull it off playfully like a wounded puppy, adding a nice touch of humorous vulnerability.

The Bottom Line

It’s a good movie, and definitely worth a watch, even if it’s not the most satisfying Bogart fix.  There’s more than enough to satisfy the classic movie lover though, and it’s a decent vehicle for Robinson.

Fun Fact

According to IMDB, it’s the only movie, out of the five they made together, that Robinson and Bogart don’t die!  Although, they do have a scrappy little fistfight at the end where Robinson gets the best of Bogart.